In late 2017, Crossway publishers released Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, edited by J. P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem. This is a massive work, with 1008 pages and over two dozen authors from multiple disciplines, including leaders from the Discovery Institute and other Intelligent Design (ID) advocates.
What is new in this book
This volume is notable in engaging some prominent evangelical voices in the conversation, such as biblical scholar Wayne Grudem and philosopher J.P. Moreland. BioLogos has been working for years to invite faith leaders to talk with us about the evidence for evolution and its implications, so we’re glad to have these leaders in the conversation and hope the interchanges around this book will help increase understanding and dialogue. We appreciate Wayne Grudem, in particular, for being clear that he sees evolutionary creationists as genuine, deeply committed Christians, even friends (64) and reaching out to us (after a book event) to ask clarifying questions.
The volume is also notable in that the Discovery Institute is finally addressing theology directly. The Discovery Institute has previously framed their argument without religion, as the case for an undefined designer, in hopes of engaging non-religious audiences. We’ve interacted with many ID leaders over the years and know that several are committed Christians. Could this shift to theology be a signal that their messaging will become more explicitly Christian? Will they openly defend the Christian faith in the public square? Will they address biblical implications of an old universe (which most ID adherents accept)? We would be pleased to see moves in these directions, as areas where BioLogos and Discovery would have a shared interest.
For us at BioLogos, reading this book is a bit like looking in a flawed mirror. The mirror is aimed nearly directly at us. BioLogos is described as “the primary website for thoughtful material related to theistic evolution” (Grudem, 65), “a group promoting theistic evolution,” (Meyer, 563), and “one of the leading groups of theistic evolutionists in the United States” (Dilley, 602). Sometimes the mirror gives an accurate reflection of the the BioLogos I know; many times the mirror is cracked and smudged, showing a distorted or obscured picture of us. Some of the flaws in the mirror seem to arise from the book being written over a long period of time, with many references to BioLogos people and publications from several years ago—including incorrect references to them as “active members” (Moreland, 645)—but few references to current leaders and writings in recent years. Yet we will try to use this flawed mirror as best we can; in the places where the book gives an accurate reflection of BioLogos, it can provide important insights on how BioLogos appears to others and where we can improve.
Defining Design, Theistic Evolution, and Evolutionary CreationLet me be clear that all of us at BioLogos fully and ardently affirm that the universe is designed. The wonders we encounter, from massive galaxy clusters to tiny viruses, continually amaze us and move our hearts and minds to ponder the Designer of it all. For us, design is seen just as much in God’s governance of natural processes as in God’s supernatural action. Science expands our amazement of how God works and increases our worship. Whether or not science has an explanation for a phenomenon in the natural world, through the eyes of faith we see God’s creative power and providential care.
So we were disheartened to see the definition of theistic evolution used in this book:
God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes (Grudem, 67).
No one at BioLogos would describe God’s action that way! This definition is basically deism, with God’s only action as creating matter at the start and no mention of God’s role in that natural behavior of matter. Now, we accept that the book’s authors had valid reasons to choose the term “theistic evolution” (TE) rather than the BioLogos-preferred term “evolutionary creation” (EC). As Grudem notes, the TE term has been used for decades in the theological literature (65). And we understand that the book at many points is addressing the larger group of people who identify (and have identified) as theistic evolutionists, which does include some deists. The authors even acknowledge variations within the TE umbrella, including a variant that falls closer to our view, in which God “constantly upholds those laws on a moment-by-moment basis” (Meyer, 44).
But to refer to BioLogos as the “primary source for thoughtful material” on this definition of “theistic evolution” is a flawed reflection indeed. Even versions of TE that affirm God’s moment-by-moment activity in nature are said in this book to have “ a much more limited divine role in the process of life’s creation” (Meyer, 44). Such a description of TE distorts what BioLogos and many other theistic evolutionists believe about God’s activity in the world.