The second chapter of Denis O. Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution provides a sketch of five basic categories for common views on creation, Genesis, and human origins – young earth creation, old earth or progressive creation, evolutionary creation, deistic evolution, and dysteleological evolution.The sketches are designed to highlight the distinctions between the various positions and avoids much of the nuance; thus many will find that their view falls in the cracks between the sketches.
I am not going to rehash each of these positions – young earth and old earth progressive creation are fairly well understood. Dysteleological evolution denies the existence of God and the presence of any purpose or plan in the origin and development of life, or in the universe as a whole. The universe simply is, life simply evolved as a result of physical and chemical processes combined with blind chance. This too is fairly well known.
Less clear to many Christians, at least as far as I can tell from comments on the blog and e-mails I’ve received, is the distinction between evolutionary creation and deistic evolution or dysteleological evolution. Evolutionary creation is a view that takes both science and scripture seriously. The position is often identified as theistic evolution, but the word order is significant. The view is conveyed more accurately when the noun is creation and evolutionary is descriptive of a view of creation. Perceptions of theistic evolution can range from the view of evolutionary creation presented here to a hands-off view that comes closer to deism. Dr. Lamoureux gives a good description of evolutionary creation and of the contrast of this position with deistic evolution, including forms of Christian deistic evolution in his book:
Evolutionary creation asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an ordained, sustain, and design-reflecting evolutionary process. This position fully embraces both the religious beliefs of Christianity and the scientific theories of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution. It contends that God established and maintains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of teleological evolution. (p. 29)
Clearly this needs to be fleshed out – but the statement is critical. Evolutionary creation is a view that fully embraces Christian orthodoxy yet sees no reason to doubt the empirical evidence for an old earth or for evolutionary processes including common descent. You can argue that we are wrong – but the level of the discussion is on par with many theological debates in the church. This is not a step away from God and into skepticism or demythologized rationalism.
From your perspective what is the most significant issue for an evolutionary view of creation?
Lamoureux uses the example of human development – embryology – as an analogy to explain evolutionary creation. In Psalm 139:13-14 we read
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Few of us, however, read this with a vision of God stepping in to perform discrete acts in the process, say construction of an eye or the neural network of the brain, distinct from the natural growth from fertilized egg to human infant. God is fully capable of weaving an infant in the womb and knowing him from unformed substance to manhood without undermining or sidestepping the ‘natural’ process. Nor do we see science in verse 15:
My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
This is not a scientific statement about the formation of humans prior to the womb.
So… Lamoureux puts forth the following features of evolutionary creation (p. 30-31):
First, embryological and evolutionary processes are both teleological and ordained by God. At conception, the DNA in a fertilized human egg is fully equipped with the necessary information for a person to develop during the nine months of pregnancy. Similarly, the Creator loaded into the Big Bang the plan and capacity for the universe and life, including humans, to evolve over 10-15 billion years.
Second, divine creative action in the origin of individual humans and the entire world is through sustained and continuous natural processes. … evolution is an unbroken process that the Lord sustained throughout eons of time.
Third, human embryological development in the microcosm of the womb and evolution in the macrocosm of the world reflect intelligent design. That is, each is a natural revelation authored by the Creator. … Indeed, the Big Bang “declares the Glory of God” and biological evolution “proclaims the works of His hands.” (Ps 19:1)
Finally, spiritual mysteries are associated with both the embryological and evolutionary processes that created humans. Men and women are unique and distinguished from the rest of creation because they bear the Image of God and have fallen into sin. … Christian evolutionists firmly accept these spiritual realities, but recognize that understanding fully their origin is beyond our creaturely capacity to know.
Evolutionary creation is not a position that disregards scripture. Scripture is a record and revelation inspired by God of his nature, his relationship and interaction with his creation and his creatures – including humans created in his image for covenant relationship and for mission, and his relationship with his people in Israel. Most importantly it reveals Jesus Christ – not simply the historical Jesus, but God’s messiah who, as Paul tells us, was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. But evolutionary creation does view the creation narratives as conveying theological rather than scientific truth in much the same way that Ps. 139 conveys theological truth rather than scientific truth.
Evolutionary creation is distinct from deistic evolution – the position that sees a God who started the process in the Big Bang, but then steps aside and allows life to unfold. In particular, evolutionary creation sees God at work within creation in both natural and supernatural ways. There is a place for personal miracles, signs, and wonders as well as natural processes. Evolutionary creation does not reject intelligent design in nature, nor does it reject human spirituality. In fact there is little difference on these issues between Christians who hold to young earth, old earth, or evolutionary creation. When signs and wonders are rejected, and this is true of young earth creationists as well as evolutionary creationists, the reasons have to do with theology and the reading of scripture, not with a denial of the possibility on scientific grounds. Those who hold to evolutionary creation run the gamut from Presbyterian to Baptist to Pentecostal and all between.
The most significant issues with evolutionary creation center on divine activity in origins – both the place for divine activity in general and the role for divine activity in human origins in particular.
According to Dr. Lamoureux “evolutionary creationists reject dramatic miracles in origins. They argue that God created everything by ordaining and sustaining a teleological evolutionary process. ” (p. 48) While some do take this position, it seems a bit of an unnecessary overstatement. An evolutionary creationist sees no reason to expect that God created using dramatic miracles, no reason to doubt the evidence we see for the gradual development of biological diversity or common descent. But there is not, or need not be, a blanket rejection of the possibility that God acted in a supernatural fashion at key points. Simply put, there is a willingness to go with the data. Whatever the method or process, God created and sustains all.
Human evolution is an even more explosive topic. Here again there is a spread of views held by Christians who support evolutionary creation. There is general agreement that Genesis is not a science text and there is no expectation of scientific concordance. There is general agreement that humans evolved in common descent with all of biological life, sharing a common ancestor with Chimpanzees some 4 to 5 million years ago or so. There is much more variety of opinion on the significance of Adam and Eve, the historicity of the fall, and the intertwined relationship between historical and theological concordance in Gen. 2-3. Dr. Lamoureux will argue that Adam is not historical and there is theological, but no historical concordance in Gen 2-3. Dr. Denis Alexander, on the other hand, who has a Ph.D. in Neurochemistry, has published ~60 papers in the primary scientific literature, and is Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, sees both theological concordance and an element of historical concordance in Gen 2-3, but no element of scientific concordance (see specifically about 3 minutes into this clip).
These distinctions in positions will undoubtedly lead to some good conversation as we continue on in discussion of Dr. Lamourex’s book, but do not challenge the general premise of evolutionary creation. There is work to do at the edges, particularly the theological edges of this view of God’s creation. Of course, there is work to do at the edges of any view of creation, including young earth and old earth progressive creation. None of these are entirely self-consistent in their accord with scripture or view of theology. The mystery or uncertainty alone is no reason for concern. We are meant to wrestle with scripture, the relationship of God with creation, and his redeeming work in creation. This is part of being both human and God’s people.
What do you see as the strengths and weakness of evolutionary creation? What distinctions and positions are possible?
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For those who find the full book (400+ pages) somewhat daunting Dr. Lamoureux has condensed the book into a more accessible version, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. He also provides audio and slide summaries of each chapter of Evolutionary Creation online.