Theistic evolution critiqued by evangelical scholars

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (BP) -- "An interdisciplinary critique of theistic evolution" was the topic of a half-day session at this fall's meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).

The event featured scientists, philosophers and theologians presenting arguments against the notion that God created humans and other living beings through the process of evolution rather than by direct creation of distinct species -- a view known as theistic evolution.

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At issue in particular were some theistic evolutionists' claims that all organisms are descended from a single common ancestor in the distant past and that seemingly random mutations in the genetic code produced all the varieties of life observed today.

Presentations and ensuing panel discussions paralleled the content of a book titled "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique," set for release Nov. 30 by Crossway.

Among the claims of the Nov. 15 ETS presentations and accompanying book: "Theistic evolution is incompatible with the teachings of the Old Testament" and "theistic evolution is incompatible with the teachings of the New Testament."

Wayne Grudem, one of the book's editors and research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, argued in his presentation that "theistic evolution denies 12 creation events and undermines crucial doctrines."

Grudem's chapter of the same title in the book claims theistic evolution entails several problematic assertions. Among them:

-- "Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never even existed)";

-- "God did not act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground";

-- "God never created an originally 'very good' natural work in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles and similar harmful things"; and

-- "After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changed the working of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind."

Countering such claims, Grudem writes, "A nonhistorical reading of Genesis 1-3," as required by theistic evolution, "does not arise from factors in the text itself but rather depends upon a prior commitment to an evolutionary framework of interpretation, a framework which the science and philosophy chapters in this volume show to be unjustifiable."

Other presentations supplemented the biblical critique of theistic evolution with theological, scientific and philosophical arguments.

Theological critique

Gregg Allison, professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a presentation claiming "theistic evolution is incompatible with historical doctrinal standards." His chapter of the same title in "Theistic Evolution" cites writings of early church fathers, medieval theologians, Protestant Reformers and contemporary Christian thinkers to show followers of Jesus have always rejected the types of claims advanced by theistic evolutionists.

For example, the fourth-century Nicene Creed's "specification that God is the 'maker' of 'all things visible,'" Allison writes, "was uniformly understood in the early church to affirm God's direct creation of all the varieties of plants and animals on earth. Yet this creedal affirmation contradicts the claim of theistic evolution that God was the 'maker' only of the initial inanimate matter in the universe and that that matter, apart from divine guidance or intervention, eventually developed by pure natural processes into 'all things visible.'"

Likewise, the medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas "affirmed that God alone creates and he rejected the idea that creation itself possesses the ability to create or develop other living realities," Allison writes.

Despite Protestants' many disagreements with Catholics in the 16th century, they reaffirmed the "traditional view" of creation, Allison writes, citing numerous examples from Protestant confessions of faith.

Among Allison's conclusions, "Theistic evolution's affirmation that God created matter is, in itself, neither wrong nor controversial, but it does not go far enough. Such a view falls short of affirming, as the church has historically believed, that God created not only inanimate matter but also all visible things ... and all invisible things."

Scientific critique

Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, made a presentation on "the growing scientific problems with contemporary evolutionary theory." The Discovery Institute is a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.

The chapters Meyer authored in "Theistic Evolution" similarly highlight scientific problems with the theories advanced by some theistic evolutionists. In particular, he takes issue with the claim that an undirected process which appears random under scientific analysis yielded complex life and the appearance of design.

"According to textbook neo-Darwinian theory," Meyer writes, random mutations in DNA sometimes produce genetic changes that "confer a survival advantage on the organisms that possess them." Those changes are passed on to the next generation, evolutionists claim, and over time, accumulated genetic changes gave rise to new species of animals.

But Meyer, citing contemporary biological research, counters that the number of possible DNA arrangements "are simply too vast, and the available time" for natural selection to cycle through the possible mutations is "too short for there to have been a realistic chance of producing even one new gene or protein by undirected mutation and selection in the time allowed for most evolutionary transitions."

In other words, "it is overwhelmingly more likely than not that" random genetic mutation "would have failed to produce even one new functional (information-rich) DNA sequence and protein in the entire history of life on earth," writes Meyer, an editor of "Theistic Evolution."

Philosophical critique

J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., addressed "philosophical problems with evolution" at ETS. He told Baptist Press via email some of the material in his presentation mirrored a chapter he authored in "Theistic Evolution" on theistic evolution's tendency to rob "Christians of confidence that the Bible is a source of knowledge."

In that chapter, Moreland, another of the book's editors, expresses alarm that many in western society claim "the hard sciences" -- such as biology, physics and chemistry -- "are the only or the vastly superior way to know things." According to that viewpoint, statements "that cannot be tested with the five senses ... such as those at the core of ethics, political theory, and religion are not items of knowledge, but rather, matters of private feeling."

In contrast, Moreland writes, the Christian worldview holds science as one of several valid sources of knowledge, including the Bible.

Theistic evolutionists unwittingly "become the church's gravedigger," Moreland writes, by treating speculative claims of scientists as a more reliable source of knowledge than Scripture.

"It can hardly be doubted," Moreland writes, "that the greatest impact of evolutionary theory is its significant contribution to the secularization of culture, a shift that places a supernatural God ... outside the plausibility structure of Western society. In light of that, why would any Christian want to flirt with theistic evolution?"

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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