Americans, GOP and Science

46% of Americans are Young Earth Creationists, 58% of Republicans:

From Charles Johnson:

Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.

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  • Eric Roseberry


    I’d be curious what advice you have for pastors who are asked about this topic. Since it is not the field of expertise for many (if any pastors) should they simply refer people elsewhere on questions like this? Are there any specific resources that you would point pastors to in order to gain a better foundation for interacting with this issue?

  • I suspect that a not insignificant portion of that 46% of Americans has really never thought it through.

  • Joey Elliott

    Yet not all of those Americans who hold that view do so absent careful thought, study, and theological and scientific reflection.

  • Joey Elliott

    So Kullervo I disagree with you.

  • MatthewS

    Just curious, what would be different if the question were “Do you believe in God?”

  • Joey, I am certain that a significant number of people who self-identify as young earth creationists on a survey have arrived at their position by “careful thought, study, and theological and scientific reflection.” I am likewise certain that a significant number have not.

    I’m not claiming that anyone who really thinks it through will necessarily come to the conclusion that YEC is ridiculous.

  • Joey Elliott


    Fair enough. Thanks for acknowledging that. Many who report or write on this topic do not.

  • Scot McKnight

    Eric, I recommend Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, and Karl Giberson. And this stuff needs to be taught clearly, firmly, and pastorally.

  • God’s creation is part of his testimony to us. Creation testifies to the truth of God and his ways for us. Rejecting the testimony of God’s creation ought to be seen as on-par with rejecting the testimony of scripture. It’s not faithfulness to God to reject the science of creation, an old earth and evolution. It’s faithfulness to human understanding.

  • gingoro

    “Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.”

    The preponderance of scientific literature has been wrong before. What matters is what we find in the universe. In this case I happen to accept evolution.

  • Andrew Wollitzer

    Hi Scot and All. As far as help for pastors, and help understanding this topic as a whole…there is a young professor in our church who has been leading us through this very topic for some time..and creating resources to help. I would really encourage you to check it out. Our goal in all of this was to be 100% faithful to scripture, and 100% faithful to science…which I believe is absolutely possible and whom Dr Moritz has helped to show me. If you are interested, follow this link:

  • understatement

    “…that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.”

    not just the preponderance of scientific literature… literally the heart and engine.

  • Joey Elliott


    With all due respect, rejecting the testimony of Scripture is much worse than rejecting the testimony of God’s creation. Much worse. Creation reveals God. Only Scripture reveals Jesus. There is no other name under heaven in which we must be saved.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Rebecca, you need to clarify that statement: Are you saying that rejecting the evidence of nature in favour of an old earth is a bad thing, or rejecting a young earth creationist interpretation of Genesis is a bad thing? Not quite clear in your statement @ 9.

  • Joe Canner

    Joey #3: I don’t doubt that many who hold to the YEC position have done so based on “careful thought, study, and theological and scientific reflection.” I think the bigger question is how many have done so based on a wide range of materials, including authors like Hugh Ross, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Darrell Faulk, etc. Many of the YECs I know get their information only from family and friends or from AiG, CRI, and the like.

  • Phil Miller

    The one thing I’ll say is that like any poll, the answers are only as good as the questions. In this case, I don’t think Gallup’s question are necessarily good enough, or at least they aren’t quite pointed enough to actually say that 46% of American believe in YEC. The only options given that involve God are:

    “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 year or so.”


    “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”

    It seems to me that some could be something else other than a YEC and give the first answer as their choice. I don’t necessarily think this result means that 46% of Americans take Genesis literally.

  • RDH

    Sunday night at Bible study, our pastor handed out his syllabus for a study of the Old Testament. On it, he had written, “Creation (4004 BC).” When he began talking, he explained that Bishop Ussher had figured out the date of the Creation and everything else in the Old Testament. Moreover, he said no Bible scholar has ever refuted the timeline, and it is generally accepted. I said, “You don’t mind if I don’t accept it, do you?” The class laughed. “Why wouldn’t you?” he said. “Well, agriculture started at least 10,000 years ago in Turkey, way before you think the world was created. By 4,004 BC, there were hunter-gatherers here in Missouri.” The pastor looked at me and said, “How can you be sure of that?” I said, “How can you be sure creation occurred 4004 BC?” He said, “God’s Word tells me.” I said, “Well, I can’t argue with God’s Word, so I think I’d better leave.” And I did.

  • AHH

    In addition to Scot’s recommendations at #8, for pastors looking to get up to speed I would strongly recommend the book “Origins” by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma of Calvin College.

  • Janet Rea

    While there are, no doubt, those who accept YEC based on “careful thought, study, and theological and scientific reflection,” I am afraid that the average conservative church-goer does not engage in very much of this activity. My husband (a high school chemistry teacher) and I teach classes on science and faith at our church and here are 4 of my observations: 1. Christians have a tendency to dismiss science because they think it is evil (because evolution is evil), 2. they do not know very much about science in the first place, 3. they seek and accept answers from Christian “authorities” because they do not have the tools to seek truth on their own (as Joe #15 said), and 4. they do not understand that nature is a revelation of God and as such, it does not lie.

  • RJS

    The Haarsma’s book is outstanding. I’ve posted on it a couple of times, most recently here.

  • Daniel An

    Christians are so eager to accept that universe is huge. But while it obviously points to the fact that light from the stars that far away can’t reach us that quickly, many still hold onto YEC. I think G.R. Morton’s Days of Proclamation Theory is the only reasonable way for Christians to hold onto both scripture and science.

  • AliceInWonderland

    It is marketing, plain and simple. Do you believe your science teacher, or do you believe your pastor? Well, lets see. My science teacher was pleasant and I really enjoyed her class, but that it. My pastor, he was there at the hospital when my grandfather passed away, he married my husband and I, ect. Which one am I going to believe?

    It would take most people way too much effort to understand the scientific theories behind creation, but why should they? What impact does it have on their lives if they believe in young earth creation or old earth creation? All that really matters, from my point of view as a Christian, is that they understand that there is a creator who cares for them. Beyond that, it is about as useful as understanding Platos Cave. Lovely for the smart people who enjoy philosophy and thinking about things critically (about 10-20% of the population,) completely useless to everyone else.

    The main thing for me is that we don’t limit science. Saying the earth is 7,000 years old or whatever is limiting science. But then again, so is throwing out anything but naturalistic explanations. Currently, I see flaws in the current scientific view of evolution. That doesn’t mean I automatically accept young earth creation, however. We will see where things go. Personally, I think this standoff between Christians who say it has to be a literal 7 day creation 7,000 years ago, and atheist who say that we have to accept a completely naturalistic explanation has really stunted scientific discovery and growth.

  • Cklaus

    Does the Bible support old earth? Where/how? I will follow my understanding of scripture even when science disagrees. But I’m open to learning the scriptural support for old earth.

  • andrew

    I studied evolution at high school, and topped my class in it. It didn’t convince me of its validity. It is a world view based on presuppositions of secular materialism. the supernatural interventions of a creator are outside the bounds of what science can speak to.

    the levels of complexity in the smallest organelle in cells, the amazing fine tuning of the physical constants in the universe, that life exists at all (pasteur demonstrated that life doesn’t come from non-living things, yet somehow life is meant to have sprung into being spontaneously and miraculously organised itself so it could continue to propagate..)

    I don’t have all the answers as to the carbon dating of every last artefact found, but i know that come judgement day i’d rather stand before the throne and tell God that i preferrred to believe his word literally when it appeared to be speaking literally than to think He wasn’t powerful enough to speak the universe into being and create a fully formed earth and universe by divine fiat. that doesn’t preclude belief in science, but it does admit that there are limits to our knowledge, and that materialism is never going to admit a fragment of supernatural interference into the creation story.

  • Phil Miller

    The problem with being a scientist and saying you reject evolutionary theory is that it’s a bit like being a mathematician and saying you reject calculus. I think when the public thinks about evolution, they mostly think of bigger picture things like humans evolving from apes and such. But on a more basic level, evolutionary theory plays a very important in all sorts of things that have any genetic components to them. That includes things like epidemiology, microbiology, food safety, pharmaceuticals, etc. They all are using evolutionary principles in their research.

    In some sense, I’d agree that it doesn’t necessarily make a huge difference if a Christian is a YEC adherent. But on the other hand, I’ve seen that they can poison the well for young people growing up in church by teaching them to have an unwarranted fear and/or distrust for science.

  • Ron Fay

    To Phil Miller,

    As someone who has degrees in science and math before going into the ministry, let me disagree with your analogy. Evolution does not underlie every aspect of modern science the way calculus does mathematics (except maybe advanced number theory and topography). Evolution for most scientists is in fact irrelevant. They must hold to it in order to get a job, but beyond that only certain types of physicists and biologists even really deal with it.

    The problem with science addressing origins is that it is literally beyond the bounds of science since the beginning is not observable, repeatable, or even measurable. It does not fit in the rubric of science at all, since it fails the steps of scientific theory. Hawking was one of the great minds of the modern era, did amazing things, but then delved too far outside of science in his popular level books and lost credibility in the scientific community, even if they don’t go around telling non-scientists that.

  • RJS

    Ron Fay,

    Phil didn’t say it underlies every aspect of modern science did he? He said it “plays a very important in all sorts of things that have any genetic components to them. That includes things like epidemiology, microbiology, food safety, pharmaceuticals, etc. They all are using evolutionary principles in their research.

    This is certainly true. And evolution doesn’t underlie Chemistry the way mathematics does, rather the relationship is the reverse. Chemistry underlies evolutionary theory – and it is in part because I understand chemistry (I am a chemistry professor after all) that evolution makes sense to me as a coherent story. The mechanisms and processes are all chemistry.

  • RJS

    Ok – Phil’s opening line could be read the way you interpreted it. But the rest of the point brings it around.

  • #22 AliceInWonderland

    “What impact does it have on their lives if they believe in young earth creation or old earth creation?”

    Yes. I think that is the heart of the matter. Same for evolution. What difference does it make for most of us average Jills and Joes? Consequently, it is simply easier to conform to the views of reference groups to which we belong (family, church, etc). Not conforming can pose severe group sanctions from our reference groups over something that is peripheral to our lives. We are talking about science here but this dynamic plays out with a host of issues across political and theological spectrum. For most of us, it is simply too much work and the social risk is to great to be really diligent about conforming to the truth that is there. Consciously or not, we weigh the cost of rocking the boat and keep a portfolio of beliefs that keeps us stable in our environment.

  • Phil Miller

    When I was using calculus as an example, the point I was trying to get at is that I think to the people who are doing the science, evolutionary theory is a tool, and a very important depending on what field one is in. Calculus isn’t a perfect example because in many ways, calculus is foundational to mathematics. But on the other hand, one can use math without delving into calculus. But one couldn’t really be taken seriously as a mathematician if he outright rejected calculus.

  • Andy

    What do you think of John Walton and his theological explanation of Genesis 1? He denies Gen. 1 speaks to material origins rather he believes the focus is on functional origins.

  • AliceInWonderland

    Evolutionary theory is a tool, and micro evolution is easily “provable.” However, I think scientists extrapolate farther than they have cause to do. It is like Newtonian physics, it makes sense to us to a point, and it was “provable”, however, Einstein came along and proved that wasn’t all there was.

    The problem with evolutionist currently is that they have taken their pet theory of evolution, and disallowed any more discussion on the topic, so if someone did come up with a better theory, they would be shunned. Ironically, they are acting quite similarly to the church when told the world wasn’t flat.

  • understatement


    Why is this still a debate?

  • understatement

    ^ that link is to Pat teaching about this…

    advices = advises… my bad 🙂

  • Ron Fay


    I said I disagreed with his analogy. Not sure why you argued the rest of it.

    My point still stands that “evolution” is not science. Science may point in that direction, but macroevolution as the origin of species is not scientifically verifiable. I am not sure why scientists throw out science when it comes to origins.

  • RJS


    First, I missed the impact of the first sentence in Phil’s comment as I said in my second comment.

    I argued the rest of it because the idea that “macroevolution as the origin of species is not scientifically verifiable” is a wrong statement. Every statement that has been made by “a scientist” about macroevolutionary mechanism itself is not correct. But the overall process is scientifically verifiable, and is being better understood (in its complexity) every day. Evolution is science and it is undergoing the same kind of corrective refinement as every other form of science.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ron, macro evolution is supported by the evidence. The fossil record. As a geologist, I can see that – although I’m not a paleontologist. We have a clear succession – from late Archean stromatolites, through the Cambrian explosion, the dinosaurs, the eventual domination of the mammals, down to the appearance of the humanoids. You don’t find humanoids in Archean, or Cambrian, or Jurassic rocks. And their ages are supported both relatively (ie the geological column), and absolutely, through radioactive dating, many different methods and “clocks”.

    As RJS said the chemistry (and the physics) underwrite evolution. Scientists certainly do not through out science when it comes to origins. God knows where you get that idea.

    Alice – paleontologists, evolutionary biologists, geologists – we argue every aspect of the earth’s history all the time, challenge theories, look at new evidence, ALL THE TIME. That is what we do. Every Creationist-type challenge has been met. You can go go and look at their rebuttals and discussions. The fact that evolution is a “pet theory” that “should not be challenged” is a myth (rather, a meme 🙂 ) perpetuated by the likes of AIG and such, because they are engaged, not in science, but in culture wars.

  • Phil Miller

    The only people I’ve ever heard use the terms “micro” and “macro” in conjunction with evolution are Christians. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else try to make a distinction. For one thing, where does “micro” stop and “macro” end?

    I also think the idea that all scientists who affirm evolution are engaging in some kind of large-scale conspiracy is simply laughable. Scientists love disagreeing with one another. Nothing gives a scientist more joy than proving another scientist wrong. I think if some professor came up with testable evidence that disproved evolutionary theory, they’d be shouting it from the rooftops.

  • Phil Miller

    That last sentence of my first paragraph in #38 should say, “For one thing, where does “micro” stop and “macro” begin?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Phil @ 38 is quite correct to. I marvel at the conspiracy theorist attitude that is displayed by many who oppose evolution. I really have to resist the temptation to start asking about tinfoil hats.

    If you want to prove something wrong, prove it wrong. Don’t allege conspiracies – it makes you look ridiculous. Once you have conclusively proved something wrong, then you might consider proving that a vast, nigh – universal conspiracy exists….

  • Tom Beeghly

    Young Earth adherents do not have to be bound by 10,000 years or any number. It is a belief that God did not need millions/billions of years to create the earth and living things through Macro evolution. Macro evolution would refer to evolution from species to species. Micro evolution should really be called natural selection and adaptation within a species. So there really is no place where Macro stops and Micro begins. And please don’t bring Pat Robertson into the discussion.

  • Phil Miller

    It is a belief that God did not need millions/billions of years to create the earth and living things through Macro evolution.

    God didn’t need to do anything in any certain way. But it sure seems like the evidence we have through nature is pointing that evolution is the mechanism at work.

    Macro evolution would refer to evolution from species to species.

    There’s the rub, though. Defining a species isn’t always an easy task, especially when we start dealing with things like bacteria.

  • Keith Irwin

    I think Tom Beeghly proves macro-evolution. And so does Scot.

  • Phil Miller

    Sorry, I misunderstood your comment in #42. I thought you were saying that there was a distinction. Obviously, I misread your sentence where essentially said there wasn’t… Apologies…

  • Joey Elliott

    Phil Miller #42,

    Defining humans as a species is pretty easy though, right? That’s the rub! Humans are different than bacteria and sometimes science doesn’t clarify this, and in failing to do so presents a way more significant contradiction with the Bible than the age of the earth.

    So, I stick with Ron Fay: a human evolving from another species is not scientifically verifiable. It was not and can not be observed.

    As not a scientist myself, I would be ok with believing that “Macro evolution”, as defined by Tom Beeghly, could occur in various species. But not in humans. That crosses the line of God’s revelation, in my humble opinion. But I realize I can’t pick and choose, so I pick no “macro-evolution”.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey @ 45 – but it is! We have very clear evidence of humanoid evolution. We can genetically verify sub-species interbreeding (Neanderthal, Denisovan). We can also use the so-called molecular clock to see when our lineage split from the great ape lineage. That evidence corresponds closely to the fossil record. I would suggest that you look at the Wikipedia page on human evolution (, and specifically under the headings of Human Dispersal, and evidence.

  • Joey Elliott

    Klasie @46,

    With all due respect, I’m not convinced. Very clear evidence it is not. Evidence, maybe. But not very clear.

    And I just want to make sure you understand my point that human evolution, not necessarily evolution in general, is a profound discrepancy with the Holy Scriptures, not just Genesis. My original point was that science does not take this discrepancy serious enough, and I’d like to hear more from Christians on here about how we were created in God’s image and instructed to cultivate the earth, yet, actually, only evolved from some other species that of course we all agree was not created in the image of God.

    Consider this scientific perspective on what is too often explained away by a lot of fancy info like what is on that Wikipedia link.

    “So you have a patient that needs antibiotic treatment for a strep throat. You give him antibiotics which he takes. Since humans have more bacteria in the gut than cells in the body, there is a possibility that just one or two bacteria of the many trillions will have a positive mutation that confers resistance to the drug. The one DNA mutation changed the amino acid coded for, and the protein shape is changed ever so slightly, so that it still does its function, but the drug cannot bind like it did before. Since the bacterium is invisible to the drug, but all the other bacteria aren’t, the resistant bacterium takes over because of the available resources. Next thing you know, you have an even worse infection that you must use another antibiotic to kill.

    “That is natural selection. Why did I explain all that? I did it to show that something like that must happen millions and millions of times over to create the changes necessary to make a new series of traits, let alone a whole new species. That bacteria has so much stacked against it to just have one of those beneficial mutations. Think about needing millions of them. Then think about needing a selection mechanism for each trait, and not only that, but that the beneficially mutated organism will experience selection in its life time. You likely have methicillin resistant bacteria in your gut now, but it doesn’t matter because they will never get selected for (unless you take methicillin). On top of that, you would need gene duplications, translocations, reversions, massive genetic rearrangement, etc. that were evidently necessary to create the complicated genomes we have now. If all that wasn’t enough, this all seems unlikely even in bacteria which has a generation time of 20 minutes. Consider how many years and generations it would take when you have to select from an organism with an 80 year generation time with all the set backs I listed above! The probability that this can occur is astronomically low. And from a scientific and molecular biology standpoint, it is simply not plausible.

    “My point is: Natural selection exists. It can shape some environments. It can change animals slightly within their kind by a few genes and to a certain extent. But there is no specific evidence, and it his extremely unlikely that new species can be created through natural selection alone. Really, it’s impossible.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey, it is plausible. The math actually works (learn about probability, dynamical systems, bifurcations, synchronicity, information theory……). The evidence is there. If evolution did not happen, how do you explain the fossil record?? And how do you explain the fact that radiometric dating corroborates the story? And the geological record? As to humanoids – how do you explain the fossils then? You cannot wish away the real, physical evidence.

  • Tom Beeghly

    Klasie, obviously it is difficult argue/discuss this topic in light of your training, but you speak about it being “plausible.” The probability of a species changing throughout the eons to become human is too high to even imagine. Maybe in the math lab it works, but naturally, it is impossible. You speak of the fossil record. There are too many gaps to make a real conclusion. That is why evolution will always be a theory and not proven fact. Do you believe in a creator God? If so, what was his task in creation?

  • Phil Miller

    I think the one thing to remember is that even in this poll, the vast majority of people who replied that they believe humans evolved said that they think the God was involved in the process. The percentage of the total population that affirmed a completely materialistic view is pretty low – around 15% (even then, the way the question is worded, it doesn’t necessarily mean a Christian couldn’t be in this group).

    So the long and short of it is that there’s still a large number of people who see value in evolutionary theory but yet allow that God was involved. My question is why do Christians want to alienate these people? Why put roadblocks in front of the Gospel?

  • RJS

    Tom Beeghly,

    What is God’s task in producing the weather we experience today or in producing you? As Christians we believe that God’s hand is in everything. Whether evolution was the mechanism of God’s creation is no more relevant to God as creator than an understanding of the factors that produce a storm or of fertilization and embryology are relevant to God at work today. “Natural” mechanism doesn’t undermine God.

  • Tom Beeghly

    I agree, RJS. And I like Phil’s comment about not wanting to be alienating others from the gospel. I definitely don’t want to be the one to tell God or the world what he is unable to do. I mentioned to Klasie that evolution’s probabilities are naturally impossible, but not supernaturally impossible. Still, the Genesis record and Jesus’ affirmation of it (Matthew 19:4) lead me to believe it happened as written.

  • wolfgang

    Good discussion going here. I used to believe in a young earth due in part to Ushers timeline but changed after getting into some apologetics studies. Personally, I enjoy Hugh Ross and Reason to Believe as well as the Discovery Institute. I have also enjoyed reading Behe, Phillip E Johnson and others in the Intelligent Design field.

    About Evolution (Neo-Darwinism) and Mathematics, in 1966 there was the Wistar Symposium. Here is a small description I copied and pasted:

    One of the best known mathematical forays into evolution was the 1966 Wistar Symposium, held in Philadelphia, where mathematicians and other scientists from related fields congregated to assess whether Neo-Darwinism is mathematically feasible. The conference was chaired by Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar. The general consensus of many meeting participants was that Neo-Darwinism was simply not mathematically tenable.

    Just a little food for thought.


  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Wolfgang, Tom: The more we learn, the more we understand the mechanisms, the more the grounds for evolution is established.

    Could you please back-up your assertion that (human) evolution is simply not possible (other than having a God-of-the gaps stacking the dice, so-to-speak?)

    As to the Wistar conference: Quit using the Discovery Institute as a source of credible data. It is not. A quick google search brought this analysis to light (and yes, it is from, but I’d rather quibble with the analysis, as they do, than with source itself):

    Murray Eden and the Wistar Institute

    Schroeder cites a Wistar institute conference as showing evidence of the improbability of evolution. The symposium was transcribed from audio and published in 1967 as Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution, a Symposium Held at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology April 25 and 26, 1966, Paul Moorhead and Martin Kaplan, eds. Needless to say, this is quite out of date. Worse, it does not support Schroeder at all. Only one paper comes anywhere near proposing that the origin of life and subsequent evolution is improbable: Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory” (pp. 5-20). He does not really argue that evolution is improbable, but rather that no present theory accounts for certain peculiarities of life on earth, especially the fact that all living organisms are composed of a very tiny fraction of all the possible proteins.

    In particular, Eden argues that given all “polypeptide chains of length 250 [amino acids] or less…There are about 20^250 such words or about 10^325” (p. 7). This number is ripe for quoting, but it does not stand as the odds against life, and even Eden did not even imply such a meaning–to the contrary, he admits that perhaps “functionally useful proteins are very common in this space [of 10^325 arrangements],” and facing tough criticism in a discussion period (where his paper was torn apart, pp. 12-9) he was forced to admit again that perhaps “there are other domains in this tremendous space which are equally likely to be carriers of life” (p. 15). But his main argument is that life is concentrated around a tiny fraction of this possible protein development “space” and we have yet to explain why–although his critics point out why in discussion: once one system involving a score of proteins was selected, none others could compete even if they were to arise, thus explaining why all life has been built on one tiny set of proteins. One thing that even his critics in discussion missed is the fact that his number is wrong: he only calculates the number of those chains that are 250 acids long, but he refers to all those and all smaller chains, and to include all of those he must sum the total combinations for every chain from length 1 to 250. Of course, the number “250” is entirely arbitrary to begin with. He could have picked 100, 400, or 20. He gives no arguments for his choice, and as we have seen, this can have nothing to do with the first life, whose chain-length cannot be known or even guessed at [5].

    Among the huge flaws in Eden’s paper, pointed out by his critics, is that he somehow calculates, without explanation, that 120 point mutations would require 2,700,000 generations (among other things, he assumes a ridiculously low mutation rate of 1 in 1 million offspring). But in reality, even if only 1 mutation dominates a population every 20 generations, it will only take 2400 generations to complete a 120-point change–and that even assumes only 1 point mutation per generation, yet chromosome mixing and gene-pool variation will naturally produce many at a time, and mix and match as mating proceeds. Moreover, a beneficial gene can dominate a population faster than 20 generations, and will also be subject to further genetic improvements even before it has reached dominance. I discuss all of these problems in my analysis of Schroeder above. But in the same Wistar symposium publication, C. H. Waddington (in his “Summary Discussion”) hits the nail so square on the head that I will quote his remarks at great length:

    The point was made that to account for some evolutionary changes in hemoglobin, one requires about 120 amino acid substitutions…as individual events, as though it is necessary to get one of them done and spread throughout the whole population before you could start processing the next one…[and] if you add up the time for all those sequential steps, it amounts to quite a long time. But the point the biologists want to make is that that isn’t really what is going on at all. We don’t need 120 changes one after the other. We know perfectly well of 12 changes which exist in the human population at the present time. There are probably many more which we haven’t detected, because they have such slight physiological effects…[so] there [may be] 20 different amino acid sequences in human hemoglobins in the world population at present, all being processed simultaneously…Calculations about the length of time of evolutionary steps have to take into account the fact that we are dealing with gene pools, with a great deal of genetic variability, present simultaneously. To deal with them as sequential steps is going to give you estimates that are wildly out.” (pp. 95-6)

    From here:

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom @ 52: As with my comments to Wolfgang, can you back-up, even with a reference, your assertion that “evolution’s probabilities are naturally impossible, but not supernaturally impossible.” ?

    Also, as has been discussed on this blog (check the archives) and others, a literalist reading of Genesis violates the context and literary intent of the text quite drastically. Pete Enns has done some sterling work in that department. You can also check some recent posts on the renowned Internetmonk blog for some popular-level discussions of this issue.

  • wolfgang

    KK 54 etc…you cherry pick who you choose to believe. Go for it. You use and tell me to quit using the Discovery Institute!?! That’s hilarious. Your mind is made up. It really is Ok to have people who have a differing view to yours. There is nothing the matter with the Discovery Institute….they ask valid questions, offer opposing views and I think they are worth the time to read. There are plenty of holes in the Darwinian theory of origins. A Google search will provide lots of reading materials.

    “[A]n opposite way to look at the genotype is as a generative algorithm and not as a blue-print; a sort of carefully spelled out and foolproof recipe for producing a living organism of the right kind if the environment in which it develops is a proper one. Assuming this to be so, the algorithm must be written in some abstract language. Molecular biology may well have provided us with the alphabet of this language, but it is a long step from the alphabet to understanding a language. Nevertheless a language has to have rules, and these are the strongest constraints on the set of possible messages. No currently existing formal language can tolerate random changes in the symbol sequences which express its sentences. Meaning is almost invariably destroyed. Any changes must be syntactically lawful ones. I would conjecture that what one might call “genetic grammaticality” has a deterministic explanation and does not owe its stability to selection pressure acting on random variation.”
    (Murray Eden, “Inadequacies as a Scientific Theory,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 11)

    “[I]t seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.”
    (Stanislaw M. Ulam, “How to Formulate Mathematically Problems of Rate of Evolution,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 21)

    “We do not know any general principle which would explain how to match blueprints viewed as typographic objects and the things they are supposed to control. The only example we have of such a situation (apart from the evolution of life itself) is the attempt to build self-adapting programs by workers in the field of artificial intelligence. Their experience is quite conclusive to most of the observers: without some built-in matching, nothing interesting can occur. Thus, to conclude, we believe that there is a considerable gap in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and we believe this gap to be of such a nature that it cannot be bridged within the current conception of biology.”
    (Marcel Schutzenberger, “Algorithms and Neo-Darwinian Theory,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 75)

  • BradK

    Considering where this discussion is going this comment may be out of left field, but it doesn’t seem that the question asked in the poll doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion in the article that 46% of Americans are young earth creationists. 46% agreed with the statement that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” But this is not the same thing as believing in a young earth. Based on some of the previous discussions here at JC regarding a literal Adam, I think the number of old-earthers who do not necessarily accept evolution as the explanation for the origin of humanity is not an insignificant number in the church and not all old-earthers are also theistic evolutionists. Maybe it would not affect the poll much, but more could have been asked to narrow things down a bit more. Evolution seems more divisive in the church than the age of the earth.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Wolfgang – I’m so happy you can see into my mind. Maybe you can tell me where I left my keys 🙂

    If you read what I gave you, you’d see that I based my assertion on the quality of the content, not the author of the content.

    Also math and other disciplines have progressed a lot since then: See my comment to Joey earlier, specifically, dynamical systems, information science and synchronicity. Also, do you have any comments regarding anything that happened after 1966?

    As to Wistar – this was the topic of an interesting series of blog posts back in 2006. I’ll give you a link to the first – follow them from there.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    As to Dembski: ID is not science, but philosophy. A clear-headed examination of his views can be found here:

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    BradK: Could be. The survey could be including Old-Earth-young-human creationists, Gap theorists and any number of other variants.

  • Joey Elliott


    Respectfully, telling me to learn about various topics and then asking me to explain things does not itself explain what I presented. No offense, but I’m growing tried of Christians who are more knowledgeable about science tell me to go learn things. I know the Bible. I understand that the Bible isn’t foremost scientific. But to dance around the theological problems with humans evolving, and refusing to offer simple explanations for how it is even scientifically possible, is frustrating to me.

    I’m not expecting anyone to drop any kind of scientific belief or understanding – although I stick by my points – I just can never believe when I raise a point about human evolution causing major problems with Scripture, and people tell me to go learn science. And all that without addressing the theological problem. How were we created in the image of God yet evolved from a creature not created in the image of God? How do you explain that to someone who is seeking Christ?

    Also, your comment, “A literalist reading of Genesis violates the context and literary intent of the text quite drastically,” can and has been challenged. I don’t care about Pete Enns. Many others refute that quite simply. Again, my priority is not the age of the earth but human evolution.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey, in that case, please refrain from making judgements about something you ddon’t understand, and are not willing to learn about. You might restate your objection by stating that you are at odds with the scientific conclusions since they clash with your specific reading of Genesis etc. It doen’t do your cause any good by stating that you don’t understand something, and you have no desire to understand it, but you disagree with it anyway.

    As to Enns: could you link to any refutations?

  • Andrew

    This comment was made above “It would take most people way too much effort to understand the scientific theories behind creation, but why should they? What impact does it have on their lives if they believe in young earth creation or old earth creation? All that really matters, from my point of view as a Christian, is that they understand that there is a creator who cares for them. Beyond that, it is about as useful as understanding Platos Cave. Lovely for the smart people who enjoy philosophy and thinking about things critically (about 10-20% of the population,) completely useless to everyone else.”

    . . and I find it extremely troubling. Thinking about things critically, IMO, is an essential duty as a participant in democracy and as a Christian (Jesus certainly thought critically). Not accepting the beautiful advancements made by the human mind through science and ‘rational thinking’ (for examples, cures for polio, and our Constitution) is basically spitting in the face of God’s creation. Ignoring science is not only damaging to the person doing it, but it has driven A SIGNIFICANT number of people from the faith because to many people the idea of believing that Moses walked with dinosaurs and literal interpretations of the OT are quackery, and I can’t blame them.
    And if the response is (for example with Genesis) “well if there wasn’t a real Adam or Eve, there wasn’t an actual fall and there’s no original sin for Jesus to save us from” . . one has to look into the history and read the Bible critically. The very earliest Christians had no concept of original sin (Jews lack that concept). Paul, an avid user of metaphorical language, speaks of sin and death and being reborn in Christ but it was being saved from ‘sinfulNESS’ through following the ways of Jesus, not some abstract concept of an actual universal sin that stained all humans from birth and which required a sacrifice. Went off topic a little but so much bad theology comes from biblical literalism and historical ignorance.

  • Joey Elliott


    Ok. I’m not really offering an objection as much as I’m trying to get a simple explanation for things that are hard to reconcile, i.e. species evolving into other species despite the perceivable impossibility of such a thing scientifically, and then the resulting theological problem of having humans unique created in the image of God despite actually only being the next stage in evolution. Less discerning people would hear the lack of simple explanation on these things in the form of fancy evidence and new fields of study that they’ve heard of, and walk away assuming they just don’t understand yet. I’m not going to let you off the hook that easy.

    How does my example above not represent the strong unlikelihood of a species becoming another species with all the things stacked against them??

    How do you explain to a seeking, non-scientific person the fact that humans are unique, created in the image of God, yet evolved from something else that wasn’t created in the image of God??

    The most helpful refutes of Enns for me have been G.K. Beale in Errosion of Inerrancy, and Don Carson in Collected Writings on Scripture.

  • Phil Miller

    ow do you explain to a seeking, non-scientific person the fact that humans are unique, created in the image of God, yet evolved from something else that wasn’t created in the image of God??

    What does it mean that we were created in the image of God? I think it very little do with our physicality. After all, is a baby who is born with a birth defect that causes him to half malformed limbs or be missing limbs bear less of the image of God? Does an amputee or a paraplegic bear less of the image of God? Of course not! These people are infinitely valuable as human beings even though their bodies are functioning at a deficiency compared to other humans.

    Historically, being created in God’s image means that God breathed on humanity in a unique way that is different than other created beings. When and how this happens is a mystery, but this is why I don’t see any conflict between think that humans as a species could have evolved from other species.

    The better way to think of the term “created in the image of God” is to take it as we are “God’s image-bearers”. The ANE was a land that was in near constant turmoil because of conflicting claims made by different rulers – warlords, governors, landowners, etc. You had all these people trying to make claims to different parts of the land. One way to tell people that you owned the land was to erect statues or icons of yourself all over the place. People would see this image and know so-and-so is in charge here. So when the Bible says we were created in God’s image, it’s telling us that God is using human beings as a way to stake His territory as it were. This fact exists over and above the actual biological mechanisms that were at work to get human beings on earth.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Thanks Joey for the gracious reply! I’ll try to give you some answers, but as I’m a geologist, they might not be the best answers – so bear with me!

    If you think of creation, why would you limit the creative process to an instantaneous result? Ask yourself, why are you objecting to the idea that the creative process could bring forth man, in the image of God, through a process of gradually becoming it? Also, what is really meant by the “Image of God”? Does it mean that God has two legs, walk upright etc.? I somehow think that that is not the real intention. Man as creative, reasoning force, capable of love and relationship etc etc – thus not the biological image, but, if you think in Platonic terms, the full form, or in modern parlance, potential, of man.

    As to species changing – the word species is ill-defined, as there are very many grey areas between closely related species. Ask any taxonomist. So the change could be relatively gradual. Now, experimentally, we have observed changing species – there has been some interesting experiments with yeast, one in which a mutation that split the population occurred, whereby one part adapted to eating previously unsuitable food, and the other not. Then there was an experiment where yeast was put under conditions favoring any two-celled mutation, yeast being a one celled organism.Sure enough, in time a two-celled species mutated and developed. Now, given the time constraints, yeast experimentation is a good one to follow. But extrapolating from there, one sees how the evolutionary mechanism could work.

    If you have trouble with this, you might think about it thus: There is a strong deterministic quality in the universe – though there are debates about quantum determinism. However, on the larger scale, equations govern force and reactions, growth, information, etc etc. In being the Creator, God is the Author of the equations, the ultimate mathematician. Thus, an evolutionary view does not preclude a mathematical preconditioning (though it doesn’t require it either, it seems).

    As to Beale: His logic does not follow, necessarily. He takes as departure point the definition of inerrancy:

    1. God is true and trustworthy, and he never lies, deceives, or makes mistakes.
    2. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself.
    3. Therefore the Bible never lies, deceives, or makes mistakes.

    Well, of course, a single mistake in the Bible will bring his house down. So what about the simple arithmetic mistake in Matthew’s geneaology? Or some simple mistakes about biology in the Law’s of Moses? But the real error is in that he limits himself at (2). The way he states it is similar to the Islamic view of the Koran, or Joseph Smith’s fairy tale about the Book of Mormon. He is ignoring, or omitting the fact that that revelation took place within a specific cultural and temporal milieu, and thus carry with it the intellectual “baggage” of the primary audience of the revelation.

    Furthermore, he thus implies that God would not use the existing myths and ideas of the world (of that primary audience) to proclaim spiritual truth. Thus, he decontextualizes, and for me, that is doing violence to the Text. You might argue here that he does nothing of that per se. Sure, but it happens by implication. Because the author of the text becomes an automaton. Which also seems somewhat contrary to God’s working with man through the ages. But there are others here much better at explaining these things, I leave it to them to analyze (even contradict) my response to the inerrancy thing here.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I see Phil touched on some of the same themes while I was writing my reply. Much better, I might add!

  • AHH

    Joey @64 wrote:
    How do you explain to a seeking, non-scientific person the fact that humans are unique, created in the image of God, yet evolved from something else that wasn’t created in the image of God??

    Phil Miller mostly beat me to the punch on this. The “evolved from something else” part is the part science can (and does) address. Even a non-scientist of decent intelligence should be able to grasp, for example, the evidence for common descent presented in Darrel Falk’s book Coming to Peace with Science. As somebody else pointed out, any nonscientist who is unwilling to learn about the evidence on even this introductory level has no justification for bad-mouthing the science of evolution. It is fine to say that it disagrees with your interpretation of Genesis and you reject it on that basis, but those ignorant of a field have no business critiquing the science itself. Unfortunately, this is pretty common in the church, not just with evolution but for example with climate science.

    But I digress. As Phil pointed out, the “image of God” is in a different category, a relationship and responsibility assigned to humans not having to do with any physical characteristic, so science can’t address it one way or another. So the question asked is not too different from
    How do you explain that you love your wife, yet she developed from an egg and sperm that you did not love?

  • Joey Elliott

    Now we’re talking!

    I unfortunately don’t have time for much. But thanks all for the responses. As you might expect, I do, however, have problems with them and feel they are quite insufficient.

    First, I am shocked that no one explained what created in the image of God means using Scripture. That alone actually proves my point. If you don’t get your meaning of this complex and wonderful concept from Scripture, you are not going to get the right meaning. And please don’t play the interpretation card. Psalm 139:13 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Malachi 2:10 says, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” It is very difficult to clearly believe these statements and also that humans evolved. Created in the image of God basically means exactly that: it means that we were created separately, uniquely, in His image to reflect His glory. It doesn’t have to mean that our fingers and toes are like God, but that our being, our nature, our spirit, our gifts, our talents, our personality, our love, our ability to reason – everything that separates us from other life – is created for the purpose of reflecting the image and glory of God to the universe so that all creation can see and rejoice.

    If I were seeking Christ, and you told me that all this was still true, but God did it gradually through scientific processes that I need to understand but only can through massive reading and cognitive aptitude, I’d say thanks but no thanks. I read in Scripture that God created me uniquely, to reflect his glory. You’re saying say that yes, he did, but not “instantaneously” – those passages in Scripture are not meant to be read as literal history, but only symbolic poetry or ancient near eastern literature that don’t really mean what they say, but kinda do, at least the created in God’s image part. You’re saying that yes, God formed our inner parts, but those inner parts were originally the parts of something else that was not created to reflect God’s glory, and does not have the same gifts and spirit that God has given you. Yes, Jesus came to the earth as fully man, and at the same was and is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his being, did not evolve but was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born completely human, instantaneously, but you evolved. If you have faith in Him, your process of becoming the likeness of Christ, who is still fully man in heaven, started originally as something besides man – it took some amount of time before you were even in the state of existence that could be considered human and therefore created in the image of God, but now that you are, you are being confirmed into the likeness of Christ, who was human instantaneously, and now eternally. Jesus reflected the glory of God as man – you were created in the image of God as man – but you weren’t that originally – you had to become that through very complex and not yet fully understood processes that are not in Scripture, but still true. Though it is hard to explain fully until you understand more about all this. But just trust me you were created in God’s image to reflect his glory.

    My response – “oh.”

    I’m sorry, but that seems like adding to Scripture to me.

    As for Beale, I hope you don’t think you completely closed the door on his points in that brief rebuttal. Nowhere does he imply that there can’t be a single “mistake” in Scripture; his premise is that there is not an error in what the Bible teaches (he does not address what the Bible does not teach, i.e. whether the mustard seed is actually the smallest seed). I don’t know that I think you read him extensively enough.

    As to other myths or what not revealing spiritual truth, I’ll refrain too much from digging into this except to repeat what I said above – natural revelation (science, creation, culture, etc.) may reveal some truth of God. It says nothing of Jesus. Special revelation, the Bible, is necessary for that. Which is why I hold to it so highly. Jesus is everything.

    And Phil, I explain how I love my wife by explaining how beautiful she is on the inside and out, and how God created her perfectly, from an egg and sperm in the womb of her mother as he says in Scripture, to complement me, encourage be, challenge me, love me, show me Jesus in her kindness, boldness, grace and truth, and be a large part of the process of my sanctification into the likeness of my Lord and Savior. Was that a serious question?

  • Phil Miller

    Joey, I’m not the one who brought your wife into the discussion. 🙂

    I’m honestly having a hard time understanding your objections. I think the way God fully interacts with human beings is always going to be in the realm of biology and genetics is going to be something of a mystery. I don’t see how any of the Scripture you cite rules out evolution as a method of creation. This sentence, for instance, genuinely baffles me:

    If you have faith in Him, your process of becoming the likeness of Christ, who is still fully man in heaven, started originally as something besides man – it took some amount of time before you were even in the state of existence that could be considered human and therefore created in the image of God, but now that you are, you are being confirmed into the likeness of Christ, who was human instantaneously, and now eternally.

    None of were anything before we were human. I really don’t get what you’re saying. I’m sorry, but I’m just kind of at a loss of what else to say.

    I will add this. Here’s one analogy I’ve used before. It’s not perfect (none are), but I think it’s kind of useful. I work with architects a lot in my job, and when talking to them it’s not uncommon for them say something offhand like, “we built this school five years ago” while showing you a picture of said school. No one sitting there that the architect, who did design the school, simply spoke and the school popped into existence. No there was a long process involving all sorts of people to get that school built. But in the end, the school represents the architect’s vision, and it was built. So in a sense, the process while vitally important, wasn’t what the vision of the school was about. If you were a kid from a poor community who got to go to that school, you wouldn’t actually care too much about the process. You’d just be happy you had a school to go to. On the other hand, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, etc. care very deeply about the process, because that’s their livelihood. But no one would look at a school and deny that some process went into making that school a reality.

    I just don’t get the objections. If God chose to use evolution as the process for Creation, what difference does it make to us as it pertains to any of the foundations of the Christian faith. God is still the author of Creation. He is still the one who created the cosmos from nothing.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Joey, we seem to have a great epistemological chasm here. You are trying to read the bible in a vacuum. That simply does not happen. We each bring our own linguistic, cultural and historical baggage with us. We read something, and say – oh, this is poetry, oh, this is history! How? obviously outside knowledge plays a role. Even on a more fundamental level, we read words that mean something for us. Where did we learn the words? In the Bible? No! Were did we learn what poetry is?

    In then end, you cannot read the Bible in a vacuum. And therefore, you also have to contextualize the Bible on its own historical and cultural terms. Not yours. Not mine. The worldview and knowledge of both author and primary audience matter. What they understood to be story/myth, vs what we understand to be story/myth, matters.

    Here’s a thought experiment: Some fellow comes up to you and say that all the parables happened for real. And you say – no , the context tells me that it is a story. Besides, the word parable means story. And he says, no the word parable means history, and produces dictionary that shows it to be so. You respond, yes, maybe in that dictionary, and how you use the language it does, but I know from being taught that it means … and the whole thing breaks down. Context matters. Language matters. And we know about context and language how? Historical, scientific, linguistic study. Maybe our study shows that a literalist reading of a passage is invalid. That does not invalidate the passage, it invalidates our specific reading of that passage. The problem is not the Bible, but our reading!

  • Joey Elliott

    First, Klasie,

    I have heard the same exhortation that you are giving about how to read the Bible a hundred times. Hopefully my response to Phil will explain a bit more why this exhortation to me at this juncture is like reminding a high school-er basic grammar. Of course, you don’t know me, so this approach is not surprising or in any way offensive. And I will say the reminder never hurts, as sometimes I do still confuse then and than, and affect and effect, for example.


    I will grant that my hypothetical came with some exaggeration and putting words in the mouth of what you were saying, and therefore, was difficult to understand. But about the analogy. For one, I appreciate it because it helps me see what your perspective is, and clarify what my own is. So, let me, as I’m sure you expected, expose the major problem with it. Namely, humans are not a school. A school was not created in the image of God, and yes, of course, a school was not created instantaneously. Electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, represent no Biblical category. None of them are God, or even versions of God. God SPOKE the world into being – if that was many years for creation, fine (I don’t believe that, but as before, don’t want to prioritize that here), For humans, if it was indeed gradual, and was not historically measurable as an event in time, but only over some amount of time and perhaps not all at once, it still came about by the word of His power. I don’t see how that could not be instantaneous, from the descriptions in Scripture. You can, which is fine. Why does it matter?

    I’m glad you asked. Tim Keller has been most helpful for me on this. I will quote from the following (I expect you have read it):

    “We may read the order of events as literal in Genesis 2 but not in Genesis 1, or (much, much more unlikely) we may read them as literal in Genesis 1 but not in Genesis 2. But in any case, you can’t read them both as straightforward accounts of historical events. Indeed, if they are both to be read literalistically, why would the author have combined the accounts, since they are (on that reading) incompatible? The best answer is that we are not supposed to understand them that way. In Exodus 14-15 (the Red Sea crossing) and Judges 4-5 (Israel’s defeat of Syria under Sisera) there is an historical account joined to a more poetical ‘song’ that proclaims the meaning of the event. Something like that may be what the author of Genesis has in mind here.

    “What, then, were the authors of Genesis 2-3 and of Romans 5, who both speak of Adam, intending to convey? Genesis 2-3 does not show any of signs of ‘exalted prose narrative’ or poetry. It reads as the account of real events; it looks like history. This doesn’t mean that Genesis (or any text of the Bible) is history in the modern, positivistic sense. Ancient writers who were telling about historical events felt free to dischronologize and compress time frames – to omit enormous amounts of information that modern historians would consider essential to give ‘the complete picture.’ However, ancient writers of history still believed that the events they were describing actually happened.

    “The evidence is that Near Eastern ‘myths’ did not evolve over time into historical accounts, but rather historical events tended to evolve over time into more mythological stories. Kitchen’s argument is that, if you read Genesis 2-11 in light of how ancient Near Eastern literature worked, you would conclude, if anything, that Genesis 2-11 were ‘high’ accounts, with much compression and figurative language, of events that actually happened. In summary, it looks like a responsible way of reading the text is to interpret Genesis 2-3 as the account of an historical event that really happened.

    “If you hold to the view that Adam and Eve were not literal, and you realize the author of Genesis was probably trying to teach us that Adam and Eve were real people who sinned, and that Paul certainly was, then you have to face the implications for how you read Scripture. You may say, “Well, the Biblical authors were ‘men of their time’ and were wrong about something they were trying to teach readers.” The obvious question is, “how will we know which parts of the Bible to trust and which not?”

    “I am not arguing something so crude as “if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve, then you don’t believe in the authority of the Bible!” I contended above that we cannot take every text in the Bible literally. But the key for interpretation is the Bible itself. I don’t believe Genesis 1 can be taken literally because I don’t think the author expected us to. But Paul is different. He most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures. When you refuse to take a Biblical author literally when he clearly wants you to do so, you have moved away from the traditional understanding of the Biblical authority. As I said above, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong, vital faith yourself, but I believe such a move can be bad for the church as a whole, and it certainly can lead to confusion on the part of laypeople.

    “If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative? You may posit that some human beings began to slowly turn away from God, all exercising their free wills. But then how did sin spread? Was it only by bad example? That has never been the classic teaching of the Christian doctrine of original sin. We do not learn sin from others; we inherit a sin nature. Alan Jacobs’ great book on Original Sin: A Cultural History says that anyone who holds to the classic Augustinian view of original sin must believe that we are ‘hard-wired’ for sin; we didn’t just learn sin from bad examples. The doctrine also teaches that it was not originally in our nature to sin, but that we have fallen from primal innocence. Another problem arises if you deny the historicity of the fall. If some human beings began to turn away from God, why couldn’t some human beings resist so that some groupings would be less sinful than others? Alan Jacobs in his book on original sin insists that the equal sinfulness of the entire human race is foundational to the traditional view.”

  • Phil Miller

    The way Tim Keller explains the “problem” of Adam and Even and original sin is really only a problem if one holds to Augsutine’s version of original sin in the sense that sin is something that is genetically passed down through the human race. The Eastern Orthodox view (and more historic and helpful view, I think) is that sin isn’t something that genetically passes through the human race, but the effects of sin are something we live in and can’t avoid. All humans willfully rebel against God. It is something that is part of who we are, but it not something that we inherit from our ancestors. There isn’t a “sin gene”.

    I respect Keller a lot, but I think on this issue, he’s simply wrong. It seems he has chosen to put Reformed theology as his priority instead of other concerns. I think his statement that Paul “most definitely wanted to teach us that Adam and Eve were real historical figures” is patently ridiculous. Paul would not have a need to teach that to his audience, because they probably assumed it. I think there’s a difference in using an assumption in a rhetorical way as a jumping off point and arguing that said assumption is true.

  • AHH

    Joey @69,

    This may be futile, but with regard to the “image of God” let me point you to another book which is reasonably accessible. J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. This is a study from Scripture (in context, including historical and cultural context, as of course we always must do) as you request.
    Middleton comes to basically the same conclusions Phil Miller states in #65, which is also the conclusion that most OT scholars reach with regard to this passage. Namely, that the “image” is primarily a matter of God choosing humans to be his representatives, vice-regents, closely connected with the nearby “dominion” language. It is our God-appointed role to image (represent) God, not having anything to do with any physical characteristic we possess. And therefore how God might have brought humanity into physical existence is simply not relevant one way or the other to the “image” assignment in Genesis 1.

  • Joey Elliott


    Patently ridiculous is strong and an unnecessary use of words. His argument is perfectly logical and sound, grounded in church history and orthodox biblical interpretation. Debatable, of course, but not ridiculous.

    Augustine or not, inherited or not, the point is that we don’t just commit acts of sin, we all have sin. Where did it come from? How do you explain sin nature to someone who is seeking Christ, yet does not admit their sin? To Keller’s questions,

    “If you don’t believe in the fall of humanity as a single historical event, what is your alternative? You may posit that some human beings began to slowly turn away from God, all exercising their free wills. But then how did sin spread? Was it only by bad example?

    “Another problem arises if you deny the historicity of the fall. If some human beings began to turn away from God, why couldn’t some human beings resist so that some groupings would be less sinful than others?

  • Phil Miller

    Where did it come from? How do you explain sin nature to someone who is seeking Christ, yet does not admit their sin?

    It doesn’t really matter where it came from, when you get down to it. If all sin entered the human gene pool through Adam, where did his sin come from? All Keller is doing is kicking the can further down the road.

    The fact of the matter is that we all go after our own way. We all willfully reject God at one point or another. I would say that sin originates in our own selfish desire to be our own master.

  • Joey Elliott


    You have perfectly articulated the problem that represents the only reason I interact on this blog. It doesn’t matter where sin came from?? How can you say that??

    Yes, sin originates from our own selfish desires, and that is exactly how it entered into Adam, with the influence of the devil himself. God gave Adam a clear command that was for his good, and he rebelled and chose his own way instead of God’s way, and it ended very bad for him and for us. Not subjective at all. Clear holiness of God. Clear rebellion of man. No degrees of sinning. It was the epitome of sin – rebellion against a perfect holy God that now manifests itself in every human being in the universe and in the futility of creation, and which can only be atoned for by the blood of Christ, the God-man. The minute we say our sin is just from our “own selfish desires” and not somehow (mysteriously, I grant you) connected to our first ancestor, you open it up to subjectivity and no definite proof that we have it, or have it to a degree that requires the once-for-all sacrifice of the Savior. “Well, I sin, but I’m not as bad as that guy, and God is good and I’ve mostly been a good person so I’ll end up in heaven because God wouldn’t send me to hell for just this or that.” Etc. Etc. That line of thinking, which is so prevalent in our culture, is a complete disregard for the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the truth of Scripture, and the preeminence and grace of Jesus Christ. And, in my opinion, it is the natural result of a lack of emphasis on Adam as a historic person that we are all literally connected to.

    “And it’s a true story- you want some evidence?
    We’ve been doing the same thing ever since”

  • AHH

    Joey @77,

    If I go the the doctor, and I get an accurate diagnosis of my disease and also an effective cure for my disease, figuring out exactly how I contracted the disease is of secondary importance at best.

    Having said that, I have some sympathy for those for whom an actual “Fall” of some sort is a significant part of the whole Christian story. In the context of this discussion, it is important to point out that many people have found reasonable ways to hold onto a literal Fall (often a literal Adam & Eve also) while still allowing for the evolutionary origins of humanity. That includes Tim Keller whom you quote, and also John Stott and C. John Collins. So even if you make the Augustinian interpretation of the Fall a linchpin of your theology, that’s not a good reason to deny God’s use of evolution in creating us.

  • Joey Elliott


    I appreciate you pointing that out about Keller and Stott, and for understanding the importance of a literal fall. I just happen to think it is a very good reason to deny human evolution, for the reasons I stated.

  • Andrew

    Joey, this argument taken to this logical conclusion, if God is the all-powerful supernatural human up in the sky, why did he create humans KNOWING they would sin? (unless you are going to try to claim he didn’t know or that God and Devil are on similar playing fields, which will be interesting as you’re then going into Gnostic territory) If he just wanted minions proclaiming his ‘glory,’ why didn’t he just invent some? Isn’t that like an abusive parent, inventing a naive-child like being and then throwing in temptation knowing it couldn’t resist? And then adding to the abuse theme, getting so angry at the child’s decision that you have to send yourself/son to be tortured and killed to satisfy your sense of justice?

    Thankfully, as a Christian I know these so-called “traditional” ideas of original sin and the Atonement are actually theological developments created hundreds of years after Christianity began. But judging by your previous comments, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but you strike me as someone not really interested in challenging their firmly held belief structure. Which is fine, but I do think there are serious problems, both rationally and theologically, with this view (it strikes me as Reformed) you are espousing.

  • Joey Elliott


    So what if my view is Reformed? To imply that is in some way naive or conclusively in error is absurd.

    “Thankfully, as a Christian I know these so-called “traditional” ideas of original sin and the Atonement are actually theological developments created hundreds of years after Christianity began.”

    You crazy? Talk about someone who is not interested in challenging their belief structure. (Nothing is wrong with being firm in your belief structure by the way).

    And I’m not going to answer how or why God did certain things. You are asking apologetic questions that have been addressed for centuries. Some of which are not meant to be answered. Verses in Job come to mind.

  • Andrew

    Like I said in the prior post, indeed there is nothing wrong with being firm in one’s belief structure. But one can’t then be overtly defensive when holes (or I’ll even say perceived holes) in logic are pointed out. You seem to enjoy being the lone ranger arguing for an actual Adam and literal Genesis on here, despite ignoring evidence to the contrary, and your key reasoning seems to be “I won’t believe that, because than it disrupts my belief system and I’m uncomfortable with that.” And again, no-one can be forced to be pulled from whatever comfort zone they like, but do know in a debate with others it’s an extremely poor point of reasoning.
    Can you show me proof of a knowledge of the doctrine of original sin was a widely held Christian belief pre-Augustine? How about the penal substitution theory of atonement pre-12th century? Because I can certainly provide proof to the contrary. Does it not cause pause that Christians for centuries (centuries closer to the time of Jesus) didn’t hold these views? Were they all wrong? Did Calvin and Melanchton receive divine revelation that Jesus’s apostles did not?

  • Joey Elliott


    I can assure you I don’t enjoy being the lone ranger on here. But it is what it is.

    Also, we have not interacted enough for you to realize that “ignoring evidence to the contrary” could not be further from the truth.

    I could easily work on getting you “proof” of the early church fathers and the apostles articulating original sin and penal substitutionary atonement, but I’m afraid I have to leave access to a computer for the evening. But if you can promise me that you will not discount, and maybe even strongly consider, scholarly and Biblical work on this from a Reformed perspective, I will get it to you sometime this weekend. There is no shortage of it.

  • Phil Miller

    These arguments aren’t really new in Christianity, but I think we need to make sure we’re on the same page. I’m sure there are Patristic writings that support original sin, but let’s not forget that not everyone means the same thing when they use that term. Eastern Orthodoxy, for instant, does affirm original sin, but the way it’s defined is different than it typically is in the west. What Joey seems to be defending is total depravity, and that’s a different thing.

  • Andrew


    I always try to have an open mind, albeit I think we all tend to think they are more open than they really are 🙂 Blessings for your weekend.

  • Bjorn

    I agree with Joey (two lone rangers?). Don’t you have to come to a point where you say, “Gee, I guess I’m human and maybe I should trust that what God has said is true.” But then again, I suppose for some of you that will never be good enough – you *must* find scientific evidence to provide explanation for every facet of life and faith.

    As for the so called evidence that “definitively” proves an evolutionary process over millions of years – I suggest reading a book like Cold Case Christianity by J Warner Wallace, for starters. There are many other sources that provide limitless evidence for an intelligent creator/design, lending credence to the original Genesis account in question here.

  • Phil Miller

    I have been thinking about this discussion more, and it seems to me that the issue at hand really isn’t whether the Bible and evolution can coexist. It’s whether Reformed theology and evolution (absent a historical Adam) can coexist. That seems to me to be the more problematic view. It’s interesting because all these conversations about human nature, Christ’s nature, sin nature, etc. go back to when the earliest days of Christianity. The question of what Christ’s nature was like was of utmost importance to the Fathers. The general consensus they came to (although not everyone agreed in the specifics) was that Christ had both a fully human a fully divine nature. So what exactly does that mean? “Nature” is kind of odd term that we don’t use a whole lot now. Another issue that was always closely tied to the discussion of Christ’s nature was His will. Did He have one will or two? Eventually the view that He did indeed have a human and a divine will that were indivisibly bonded mysteriously won out.

    So I bring that all up to get back Romans 5:12. Here’s what the NIV says:

    Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

    On the face of it, it does seem that Paul is saying that sin entered mankind because of Adam. But upon closer reading, it seems that what Paul is really saying is that death, or the results of Adam’s sin, became part of human existence because of Adam’s sin. so what is being passed down is the consequence of sin, not the sin itself. Also note, that Paul makes clear that because all have sinned, all face death. So when a person faces the consequence of their sin, it’s their actions they are being held accountable for, not another person’s. No one can say that their will didn’t play a part in their sinful actions.

    An analogy might be something like this. Say there was a stretch of road where there was not speed limit. One day, though, someone gets in an accident with a school bus, killing several children. Because of the public outcry, a speed limit is introduced. So now if someone goes faster than the limit, they face the consequence of that action. The reason that consequence came to be is the action of the man who hit the school bus. But the fact that everyone who goes down that road breaks the speed limit is not his fault. Everyone just breaks the speed limit, well, because they want to. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s something like Paul is getting at.

    Another thing regarding nature and sin. I actually think that inisting that sin that is a genetic trait passed down through the human bloodline can lead to a sort of backfiring when it comes to Christology and doctrine. Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, but Mary was His biological mother, so how did Christ manage to not be born with a sinful nature. Does sin reside somewhere within the Y chromosome? Also, doctrinally, no one really actually believes total depravity. No one believe that when babies die they are sent to hell. But if one were to be consistent, this would have to be a possibility, if not a necessity.

  • Joey Elliott


    I’ll tell you what I think initially, and then I’ll backtrack a bit to give you the benefit of the doubt and try to consider your points. On the surface, I think you are stretching the text so that you can explain away original sin and total depravity, which for the purpose of this discussion seem to me to go completely together, because these things contradict what you believe about scientific revelation and the evidence of evolution. And you are using a difficult, yet not insurmountable, apologetic question (do babies go to hell) to justify your explained-away interpretation of the text. And you are associating the interpretation of the text that you don’t accept with a theology that you don’t accept, when in reality a much broader base of Christians than just Reformed over church history believe what you are attempting to explain away.

    Your analogy is completely unnecessary. You say that Romans 5:12 would seem to say what it says, but then on closer reading, it says something else, and then you use an analogy to help explain what it actually says in light of what it seems to say. It says what it says bro! Why the extra explanation? The only reason for the extra explanation that I can think of in this case is because there is some other belief that can’t coexist with the face value meaning of the text; and because that other belief is supreme to you, you have to explain away the face value. For me, I can’t go there. Why would I? Is he not God? Is this his word?

    Now, I realize texts can’t always be taken at face value, and you are just diligently approaching Scripture. But lets look at it. If your reasoning is that consequences were passed down, but not necessarily sin, what about our sin? We don’t just have consequences, we have sin. So why the need to explain what Paul is saying about our connection with Adam as only consequences? It seems to say sin, and we have sin, so it seems to mean what it says. Is that not reasonable?

    As I confront evidence and scientific explanation that seems pretty sophisticated, and in some cases (not all cases) conclusive, it is a pretty intense faith battle to get through it. But with patience and humility, and study, these challenges are not insurmountable to God. He wants us to trust him and take him at his word. This does not mean discount science. But it always means take him at his word. Not explain it away. Especially when it seems pretty clear, as you indicated.

    It is the same thing with apologetics. So your question is good and profound; if we have total depravity, which several texts in Scripture seem to explain clearly that we do, then do babies, who are born with sin, but die before accepting Christ for the forgiveness of their sin, get separated from God forever? Consider this: hard questions do not make God’s word any less true. He is not caught off guard by our inquiries. I think he even gives us grace and encourages us that they are good ones. But why on earth would we explain away clear teachings in Scripture because, from our perspective, implications of these teachings appear unanswerable? Can not the God who created the universe, and upholds it by the word of his power, be worthy of our trust with our children who are taken before their time? Is he not willing to offer grace, and even answers, to the hardest questions of life? Have you never, with Bible open, sought him out for these things? I will not deprive you of this experience by attempting an answer to your specific question here.


    Thanks for the support my man!


    Perhaps the best resource, at least as a start, on the early church and the gospel teachings of sin and atonement is Ligon Duncan’s sermon at the T4G conference 2010:

    Give it a chance my friend!

  • Phil Miller

    I’m not stretching or twisting the meaning of that verse at all. In fact, I’m taking it at face value. It’s a very straightforward reading I’m advocating. It says sin entered the world (not the human race), and because of that, Adam and humanity was subjected to the consequence of that – that being death.

    I’m not saying there aren’t further things that need to be dealt with to harmonize evolution with Scripture, but that I don’t think Keller’s argument is one of them. And also, regarding Keller, when I used the phrase “patently absurd” I was referring to everything he said, simply his contention that Paul was trying to teach his audience that Adam and Eve were historic people. I don’t think that was Paul’s intention at all. What Paul’s intention was in the book of Romans was to show that everyone is on the same playing field when it comes to being sinful, whether they be Jew or Gentile. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    And again, Joey, regarding total depravity, you prove my point. The doctrine taken to it’s logical end does not suit your view of God’s character, so you amend it. It’s total-but-not-quite-total depravity you seem to be describing. So all I’m saying is that if you’re experience and observation of real world events (babies dying) allows to amend a doctrine in such a way, why should our experience and observation of the physical world around allow us to question some of these doctrines, too?

  • Joey Elliott


    What? You “think” that Paul was not intending to teach that Adam and Eve were real, and Keller’s disagreement (well founded and supported over history) with that is “patently absurd”? Am I still misunderstanding?

    And still, I don’t understand your explanation of Romans 5:12. We all have sin, right? You have sin, right? So it is true that we all have sin, and it had to come from somewhere, objectively for everyone, as taught by Paul and Scripture elsewhere, but that is not what Paul is teaching in this verse? Why else, besides not being able to simultaneously believe that Adam was real and human evolution happened, would you not think that is what Paul is teaching? How could he be saying that sin came into the “world” (only) through one man, and not into man himself through one man, when he and you and I know that all men have sin? What you are saying makes no sense to me.

    And you misunderstand my point about total depravity and babies. I am not amending the doctrine at all. Babies are totally depraved. Definitely. The question is, are they saved? That is what I am encouraging you to seek God about through Scripture, if it is a struggle or question that lessens your view of God’s redeeming love. God’s grand story of redemption, and its application to us, does not fall apart because there are questions that are difficult to answer. The understanding of this redemption, through whatever theology you ascribe, does not have to be amended because there are questions and mysteries.

  • Phil Miller

    The distinction I’m making is that sin isn’t something we have as much as it is something we do. When Paul talks about a “sinful nature”, I don’t believe he’s talking some sort of abstraction of evil within humans. I believe he’s talking of our wills through which we choose to sin. Now one could say that a fallen will is the same as “having sin”, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I picture our fallen wills as something more as a sickness or disease that Christ is healing us from. They’re not working the the way God intended, but it isn’t because they is an inherent evil in them. And actually I don’t believe Scripture gives a definitive answer as to why people sin. But it is clear that sin is something that we’re all guilty of.

    Regarding Paul and Adam and Eve – I do believe Paul regarded them as historic figures, but I don’t believe his intention in Romans was to teach anyone that. I believe his intention was to talk about the reality of human sin and that everyone stands guilty before God because all have sinned. Beyond that, of course, his intention is to proclaim that Christ’s death and resurrection as the reversal for the curse of death.

    I do believe that there probably is a vast epistemological chasm between us, as Klasie stated earlier. I feel in some ways we are probably talking past one another. All I can say is that ten years ago or so, I would probably have been much more sympathetic to your arguments. I was pretty staunchly anti-evolution. Through a series of things, my view started to change. The one big thing for me was that I noticed that for the most part none of the anti-evolution arguments I thought were great ever convinced anyone who actually understood the science well. I then was introduced to some Christians who had no problem accepting evolution as true and living as a committed Christian. Francis Collins is a good example of this. After a while I began to see that the YEC team seemed to be more concerned about winning in this particular issue than anything else. They pretty much operate with a scorched-earth policy, calling into question the faith of any who disagree with them.

  • Joey Elliott


    I can assure you that if you believe that we don’t all have sin, though we all do various sins, we are talking past each other. You seem to be trying extremely hard to deny what is basically obvious in the Bible. You suppose that someone could say our fallen will is the same as having sin, but you don’t believe that’s accurate? Why again? Because you picture our fallen will as a sickness or disease. And that is different than having sin, how?? You believe we have sin, but you’re not saying it. It is obvious in Scripture and clear in your statements. Now I just wish you would see why it matters so much.

    I wish Scot would do a series on the topic of sin. I think it would be very revealing and helpful. Passages like Psalm 51 and Galatians 5:16-26 must be accounted for seriously in this discussion. Discipleship is a lost cause if we don’t put ourselves in these categories.

    What do you say to a non-Christian who says they don’t need Christ and his sacrifice on the cross because their sins aren’t as bad as other people?

    I really appreciate the dialogue here, and sorry if I seem abrupt. And I’m really sorry you’ve been burned by YECers in the past. As Scot would say, there is too much strife about Adam right now. Although I wish the strife would end by more emphasis being placed on his essential part in the fundamentals of the faith, myth or real, and not end by less emphasis placed on him by considering his place in the story peripheral only.

  • Phil Miller

    The difference is somewhat semantics, but I believe the there is a real difference in say that sin is something that comes from our wills and something is simply some abstract blob inside of us. I’m not denying that everyone sins. That is an obvious fact. Everyone has sinned.

    What do you say to a non-Christian who says they don’t need Christ and his sacrifice on the cross because their sins aren’t as bad as other people?

    I don’t know that it’s my job to convince that person of anything regarding their sin. I believe the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. I have seen people use all sorts of emotional manipulation to convince people that there terrible sinners, but in the end I see these sorts of things as largely counterproductive. I call it good cop/bad cop evangelism. We try to convince people that God the Father hates them and want to send them to hell forever because of their sin, but on the other hand Jesus loves them and wants to save them. It seems like only partially good news.

    A lot of this goes back to how one actually views the Gospel and salvation. I think much of evangelicalism views salvation as a transaction – we give God our sin, and He gives us eternal life. In other words, God’s attitude and action towards us is dependent upon our attitude and actions towards Him. I believe what the New Testament describes, though, is that the Gospel is a proclamation. God through Christ has acted to bring salvation to His people and all people, and as Christians it’s our job to spread this news. That’s why when the angels proclaimed Christ’s birth to the shepherds, they proclaimed “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The Gospel is a proclamation that God has not abandoned us. We are not on our own, and because of Jesus’ work, God is making on all things new. He is inviting all people to join in the celebration.

    I know that was a long explanation, but I don’t believe it’s a Christian’s job to heap more guilt and shame on people. People will experience these to varying degrees on their depending on a number of factors. Our job is to lead people to Christ through fascination, to steal a word from Shane Claiborne. After all, as Paul says in Romans 2, it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.

  • Joey Elliott

    I agree evangelism isn’t guilting anyone into anything. I guess I’m more concerned about discipleship. So an equally important question is, what do you say to a Christian who stops seeking Christ in sanctification because they don’t believe they have sin, and their acts of sin aren’t as bad as other people?

    And I agree that the gospel is a proclamation. Definitely. But, among other things, it is a proclamation of a transaction. And it’s not for eternal life, only. We get Christ, our Savior King. That’s a much bigger deal than just eternal life.

    And, I agree that we lead people to Christ through fascination. So much of that though, is God’s amazing grace in light of our unconscionable sin.

    In any case, encouraged by some agreement.

  • Phil Miller

    So an equally important question is, what do you say to a Christian who stops seeking Christ in sanctification because they don’t believe they have sin, and their acts of sin aren’t as bad as other people?

    Kind of an odd question. I generally think that a person’s sanctification is a matter of their own personal business. I say the same thing Paul said in Romans 14:4

    Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

    What do you say? Why should we be so worried about sin management, as Dallas Willard put it?

  • Joey Elliott


    Not an odd question. That’s the Christian life. Do you do it on your own? Are you in a church community? Does anyone hold you accountable? Are you growing in maturity? Could anyone tell?

    Not sin management. We should be worried about our sin and other Christian’s sin because if we live by the flesh we will die, but if, by the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live. God intends for this to happen in community. Who could do it alone?

    That is Romans 14 completely out of context. If only I had the time..

  • Mike M

    How about asking them to read “Origin of Species” and/or “The Descent of Man?”