The Real Problem Evangelicals Have with Evolution (and What Needs to be Done about It)

[The following is adapted from the conclusion of The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins and is seriously modified for blog consumption.]

Why are so many evangelicals on full alert over evolution?

They are afraid that, if evolution is correct, their evangelical heritage is called into question. That means their personal narrative is threatened.

Our personal narratives tell us where we belong in the world. They give us a sense of stability and comfort amid uncertainty. Generally speaking, human beings hate having their personal narratives challenged, especially if that narrative pertains to such things as the nature of the universe and their place in it, God, the afterlife, and so forth–things the evangelical narrative provides.

Evolution threatens the evangelical narrative. And it’s not a joke. The threat is real.

All of the rancor, posturing, and nervousness about evolution masks a deep fear: “If the Bible is wrong here, there is no telling where this will go. Soon I may find myself adrift, no longer sure if I can trust anything the Bible says–no longer sure about how I should life my life and what will happen to me after I die.”

It really does come down to the the Bible: what is it and what does it mean to read it well? The evangelical movement has invested a lot of energy in building thick walls around the Bible, ready to defend it against challenges, real or perceived, that threaten its safety. (If you want to learn why that’s part of the evangelical legacy, Mark Noll will tell you here. I’ve never read anything that gets to the point as quickly and says it so well.)

The problem before us, however, is that evolution effectively challenges time-honored, bedrock, evangelical positions on how the Bible must be read. That’s why for some, even engaging evolution generously, let alone accepting it, simply means turning their back on their own evangelical heritage. The cost of doing so is often too high.

What is lost is the comfort of knowing that your reading of the Bible is right, which allows one to table doubt and mystery and embrace a (false sense of) absolute certainty.

Rewriting one’s theological narrative is threatening, but new narratives must be written, where openness to theological change when warranted is valued as part of the journey of faith rather than feared as a threat to faith.

Somehow, new ecclesiastical and academic cultures must be created, where at the very least difficult issues concerning the Bible can be seriously discussed, if not conceived of differently–without suspicion, slander, reprisal, and politicking.

Moving forward may appear like trampling on the past. But maintaining the past at all costs is hardly the better alternative. That’s fear talking.  We must turn our attention to what it means to be responsible to the future–to our children and children’s children. That takes true courage.

The question of evolution is out in the open, it’s not going to go away, and it has implications for how evangelicals read their Bible and do theology. The only real question before us is how will we choose to address it.

For some, that will mean facing their fears.

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  • JenG

    Well put, thanks Pete! I appreciate the Mark Noll link too, a very interesting read.

  • Dr. Enns – your article was used in a post at LGF:

    • peteenns

      Nice job summarizing and bringing Noll’s article into it.

  • Excellent article, Dr. Enns. Thank you!

  • The key question: Do we walk in a theology of fear or a theology of curiosity? A theology of curiosity is rooted in confidence in God: Our Lord is big enough and strong enough to survive and thrive amid various theories, whether they are right or wrong. A theology of fear — even while it may proclaim the sovereignty of God — conceives of God as weak. I think a theology of fear is lurking behind much of climate change denial.

    It’s important to remember that this distinction between a theology of fear and a theology of curiosity knows no bounds. Theoretically at least, a creationist may have a theology of curiosity while a so-called “theological liberal” may be fearful.

  • Mark Noll’s article is an interesting read. It’s obviously a very complex topic, but there are a few points that deserve to be emphasized.

    Aquinas’ views, while formulated in a highly sophisticated philosophical language, reflect the teaching position of the Church from the beginning: that God’s core identity, as known to Man, is as Creator, that creation properly understood means creation ex nihilo, and that God’s self revelation in Jesus leads to the revelation of God as Trinity. As Aquinas maintains, and as Noll points out, an understanding of being as analogical is crucial to coming to grips with these fundamental Christian beliefs.

    OK, so why did I refer to the “teaching position of the Church?” That was to distinguish the beliefs of the Church as embodied in official statements, like creedal declarations, from the thought of professedly Christian theologians and philosophers. It is important to understand that Christian thought has been heavily influenced by what has always been the dominant intellectual tradition in the West: Platonism. Platonism is, for practical purposes, the source of the “univocal” understanding of being that Noll refers to, and this Platonic influence was mediated to the West largely through the overwhelming influence of Augustine. And Duns Scotus and Ockham follow in that tradition.

    Now, what Noll fails to emphasize is that Platonism and the univocal understanding of being leads to insoluble philosophical problems. More particularly, despite the hyper rationalist manner in which the Platonic tradition is typically expressed, this position leads inevitably to an implicit (and not infrequently, explicit) skepticism regarding the capabilities of human knowledge. This was true of Augustine himself as well as of the entire tradition that follows Augustine, through the Middle Ages up to Ockham. Modern followers in this tradition include Descartes and Kant–secularized versions of Augustine. It’s no accident that a key part of the modern intellectual crisis that we are witnesses to is an assault on human knowledge of reality–this crisis flows from Platonism and its univocal understanding of being, and modern skeptics are the intellectual descendants of the Augustinian tradition, however odd that might appear to them.

    The implication of all this for the emphasis that Evangelicals place on the Bible is very important. It was the dissolvent effect that this Platonic inspired skepticism had on Christian thought that led many Christians to, essentially, despair of human reason and turn to revelation as the sole source of meaning in Man’s historical existence. As I’ve pointed out before, Benedict XVI is referring to these sorry developments in his Address at the University of Regensburg, in which he points out that Scotus’ voluntarist views on morality (basically, good and evil are simply functions of God’s will) are equivalent to the most radical Muslim views. And these views flow from the skepticism engendered by Platonic influenced philosophy. Louis Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism is a good source for a sympathetic discussion of the tremendous influence that the Augustinian tradition of Platonic thought had on Protestant thought, but a little reflection on Luther’s views of “scholasticism” should tell the story. By Luther’s time the thought of Ockham was dominant in European universities, and so for Luther scholasticism was Ockhamism. As Bouyer points out, it is this history that explains the radical hostility toward reason that we find in many Protestant circles.

    At the same time, while Aquinas’ thought was widely misunderstood and rejected in academic settings, it continued to influence Church teaching and was also preserved in certain Protestant circles (Richard Hooker is the outstanding example in that regard). The abiding popularity of G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis testifies to the influence of this tradition, as well.

    To sum up: key to an understanding of the iconic significance that Scripture has come to have for many is the realization that this development flowed from an intellectual crisis in the West that has roots in antiquity. This intellectual struggle has been ongoing for centuries and continues to this day. As Noll seems to suggest, an understanding of Aquinas’ thought is a big help in freeing oneself from this Platonic mindset that has so damaged Christianity.

  • It’s a sad state of affairs when certainty in one’s mind is the chief basis for determining an idea’s integrity.

    • Sadly, that’s what the meaning of “faith” or “belief” has been debased to: subjective conviction. Faith, rather, should be understood as reasoned belief.

      Once more, regarding Mark Noll’s article and the distinction between analogical and univocal, an invaluable source of enlightenment is Josef Pieper’s short The Silence Of St Thomas. An Amazon reviewer makes Noll’s point (or what should be his point) quite succinctly:

      The unifying theme of the three essays composing this book is the paradox that the intelligibilty of things and their incomprehensibility both derive from their being creatures, that is, from their possessing natures that are communications of the ideas in the mind of God. Things can be known only because they are created, but at the same time, things are unfathomable because they are created: “one and the same factor explains both why things cannot be entirely grasped and why they can be known” (pp.95-6). Why is this so? I’ll not deprive the reader of the pleasure of reading Pieper’s book to find out.

      Twenty five words or less: the fact that our knowledge is incomplete doesn’t mean that it’s invalid or that we fail to attain truth. Only Platonists, for whom being is univocal, think that way.

  • Robert A

    I left this over at Jesus Creed’s post about this…maybe it’ll add something…

    For those of us who find an evolutionary matrix fore creation dubious and believe in a literal Adam the issues are not as simple as Dr Enns makes them out to be. As mentioned in another post, those of us who accept the biblical account of creation (in one form or another) aren’t always young earthers (I certainly am not) and have thought this through.

    The reality is the discipline of science isn’t nearly as reliable on these matters as its present day heralds suggest it is. Cosmology is a philsophical and theological discipline with little attachment to sciences. The discussion of origins needs not be cornered by specious reasoning and a faulty deference to a mythical scientific method.

    Instead of maligning those of us who do believe in a literal Adam and those of us who do question the mechanism of evolution as useful in our ancestral origins perhaps it is better to consider us as conversation partners. Many of us have thought these issues through and weighed the various arguments and evidences carefully. We haven’t haphazardly thrown together our beliefs. Granted there are segments of evangelicalism who haven’t done this and that is troubling. Yet for the rest of us we have good reasons for questioning the underlying philosophy of science that has gotten us to where many have pushed us.

    Most of the YEC commitment is devoted to the after-effects of the fundamentalist and modernist controversy. That isn’t something easily overcome…even three generations later. Though I appreciate (and posit) a mmore nuanced approach to Genesis (and am called a liberal by some and a fundamentalist by others) it isn”t too far afield to suggest balance is needed. There are means of appropriating a reasonable position which accounts for nature of creation as we have it while also upholding the biblical reality of a literal Adam.

    I’m not one who says the earth is 8,000 years old. Yet I am also not one who is beguiled by the present day theory of the moment concerning origins (historically this is always in flux.) Where we are left is with the documents of our faith and understanding their confusing statements about origins. They are always a better starting point than a philosophically shakey terrain of modern Cartesian empiricism.

    One last note: Above all I am absolutely convinced that the key point of the biblical account(s) of creation point not to the “how” but always the “who.”

    • Where we are left is with the documents of our faith and understanding their confusing statements about origins. They are always a better starting point than a philosophically shakey terrain of modern Cartesian empiricism.

      1. Jesus isn’t a document. That’s not nitpicking. The revelation of God is first and foremost a person. But for Jesus, the Old Testament would be no more than the interesting literary records of another ancient Near Eastern tribe, with no more inherent value than others of the same sort.

      2. Yes, Cartesian thought is “philosophically shakey,” as are all the descendants of Platonism. However, also like all descendants of Platonism, Cartesianism is emphatically not an empiricism. Instead, it purports — modeled after mathematics — to deduce the universe from thought alone, i.e., the (in)famous Cogito: I think, therefore I am. This approach is a very common feature of the many different variations on Platonism, and none of them are ever able to reestablish contact with reality. Mark Noll is seriously on to something in his article.

      Re Cartesianism, cf. Etienne Gilson’s classic The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Part Two, The Cartesian Experiment (especially Chapter 5, “Cartesian Mathematicism”). In the same work, Gilson covers Kant in Chapter 9, “The Physicism of Kant,” and in Part One covers the ground that Noll summarizes re Duns Scotus and Ockham, culminating in Chapters Three and Four, “The Road to Scepticism” and “The Breakdown of Medieval Philosophy.” All very cogent.

    • Robert A,
      re your “There are means of appropriating a reasonable position which accounts for nature of creation as we have it while also upholding the biblical reality of a literal Adam.”

      For whatever it’s worth, you are in some good company of theologians, pastors, and Christian scientists who appear to accept an old earth and biological evolution while still wanting to keep an historical Adam, including R. J. Berry, Henri Blocher, C. John Collins, Daniel Harrell, Alister McGrath, Vern Poythress, John Sailhamer, John Stott, Bruce Waltke, and possibly Tim Keller and N. T. Wright.

      There are at least an equal number on the other side, including Denis Alexander, Francis Collins, Pete Enns, Karl Giberson, Denis Lamoureux, George Murphy, Arthur Peacoche, John Polkinghorne, Christopher Southgate, and possibly John Walton and Keith Ward.

      As for myself, I’m still working on it, which is why my pre-ordered copy of “The Evolution of Adam” is on its way from Amazon. My goal, perhaps unachievable, is to develop a case one way or the other that Old Earth/Progressive Creationists can buy into.

      • peteenns

        Paul, are you sure McGrath is on the correct side of the line? You may very well be. I just thought I remembered differently.

        • My bad. You remwmbered correctly. That was an unintentional boo-boo on my part. Haste makes waste.

          For example (commenting on a video blog entry at BioLogos):
          “There are those who would say that Adam and Eve designate specific historical figures. That makes some sense, acknowledges McGrath, but it makes even more sense to say that Adam and Eve are stereotypical figures—represent human potential as created by God but also with the capacity to go wrong.”
          “What Are We to Make of Adam and Eve?”,, March 31, 2010.

          • Would it be fair to say that the position of Enns, Collins and others is one of indifference and agnosticism?

            Adam may or may not have existed but this makes no difference to the overall theology of scripture?

            My personal opinion is that Adam probably wasn’t a historical person but he may have been. I just don’t think he was the first ancestor of all human beings and I agree with Enns’ understanding of Paul on this issue.

          • peteenns

            Mark, I’m pretty sure Jack Collins would say Adam is necessary. I’m willing to be corrected, though.

  • Theophile

    Why would they be threatened? I personally like the part where evolutionists have proven life on earth began in the water, just like the Bible says. It is only the lack of real science being taught(chemistry, electronics, etc.), and the forced acceptance(or flunk pseudoscience), that these hypothesis, & theories gain ground.
    When it comes to dating old earth, carbon 14 is the accepted “scientific” method: Here’s a layman explanation of that: (shamelessly copied from:
    “When we talk about “billions”, “trillions”, and “parts per million”, it is sometimes hard to really comprehend them. When thinking about the composition of the atmosphere, it might help to imagine a great wall all the way across the United States, 3,000 miles long, 8 feet high and 75 feet thick, built entirely of BB shot.
    You have probably seen a BB gun, and know how little a BB is. A BB is 0.177 inches in diameter. That’s less than a fifth of an inch, (or 4.5 millimeters for our non-US readers). Let’s pretend a molecule of gas is the size of a BB.
    A typical residential street in the western United States is about 75 feet (about 23 meters) from curb to curb, which makes it wide enough for two lanes of traffic even if there are cars parked on both sides of the street. Streets in the eastern United States are sometimes narrower in cities that were built before automobiles were prevalent, so you may have to adjust your imagination if you live where streets are narrower.
    If a street is 75 feet wide, it would take a row of 5085 BBs to stretch from curb to curb. So, one thousand BBs would only stretch 1/5 of the way across the street.
    Homes in the United States typically have 8 foot ceilings. It would take 542 BBs stacked on top of each other to make a column 8 feet high.
    So, if one wanted to build a section of a wall of BBs, 8 feet high across a 75 foot wide street, it would take 2,756,070 BBs. That is, it takes almost 3 million BBs to build that wall just one BB long.
    If one had one billion BBs (in the United States, one billion is a thousand times a million) one could build a wall 8 feet high, 75 feet thick, 5.3 feet long.
    A trillion BBs (that is, one thousand times a U.S. billion) would allow one to build that wall 5300 feet long. That’s just over a U.S. statute mile (5280 feet). If you prefer to think in metric units, one could build a wall roughly 20 meters wide, about 3 meters tall, and about 1.6 kilometers long out of one trillion BBs.
    Let’s suppose one BB represents one carbon 14 atom in the atmosphere. Then the number of carbon 12 BBs in the atmosphere would be the number of BBs in a wall as high as your ceiling, as thick as a residential street, one mile long.
    If carbon dioxide represents 0.033% of all the gas in the atmosphere, and argon makes up 1%, then a wall of BBs 30 miles long would represent the number of argon atoms in the atmosphere. Since the atmosphere is about 20% oxygen, a wall of BBs representing oxygen molecules would be 600 miles long. The 80% of the atmosphere containing nitrogen would be represented by a wall 2400 miles long.
    So, try to imagine a wall of BBs as high as your ceiling (8 feet high), as thick as a residential street (75 feet thick), stretching from the east coast of the US to the west coast (3,000 miles). 2,400 miles of that wall represents the amount of nitrogen, 600 miles represents the amount of oxygen, 30 miles represents the amount of argon, 1 mile represents the amount of carbon 12, and a single BB represents the amount of carbon 14 in the atmosphere.
    It wouldn’t take much to give a false reading.”
    I read a scientific article in 1979 concerning carbon dating of a living barnacle(mollusk) on a ships hull, it was found to be 1500 years old, the ship was only a couple decades old….that’s the last time I considered any further wishful thinking about the carbon 14 tests accuracy.


    • Theophile,
      When it comes to dating old earth, carbon 14 is NOT AND NEVER HAS BEEN the accepted “scientific” method. Carbon-14 has a relatively short half-life of 5,730 years and is therefore useful only for dating carbon-bearing materials up to about 50,000 years old. The 4.5 billion year age of the earth has been determined by radiometric dating, using a half dozen different systems with half-lives in the billions of years, all of which give consistent results.

      I would suggest that you read either the book “The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth,” by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, or the essay “The Age of the Earth,” by Robert White, available at, or the essay “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective,” by Robert Weins, available at

  • Herman Cummings

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

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

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

    Herman Cummings

  • Re: “Rewriting one’s theological narrative is threatening, but new narratives must be written, where openness to theological change when warranted is valued as part of the journey of faith rather than feared as a threat to faith.”

    Any thoughts on how that is going to happen when theologians who try to propose new narratives risk losing their positions? From the looks of things, the leadership in this effort is more likely to come from the United Kingdom and Canada, where it appears to be less risky to rewrite one’s theological narrative.

    • Paul, maybe anybody employed at a religious institution must stay muzzled. Putting one’s job in jeopardy is no joke. My husband, no theologian, is well aware of the risk. The story is here, if you’re curious:

      • Good example of the current problem, Shirley. I hope you and your husband have come out of this experience okay.

  • Jerry Bennetch

    I’m wondering if there is another factor involved in the resistance to see/read the bible differently.

    Evangelicals often emphasize their “personal” relationship with Christ, especially when comparing their beliefs to the beliefs found in other world religions. But when they emphasize this relationship, I get the impression that this relationship implies more of an individualistic, intimate friendship of the mentoring kind rather than a communal, parental model (a result of contemporary parenting?) often communicated in the bible’s metaphorical descriptions of God.

    Has the *sacredness* of the “Holy Bible” become much more than what the Christian church (as a whole) originally intended it to be? Is the bible now considered *sacred*, first and foremost, as a result of individual Evangelicals feeling a strong, subjective attachment (read: possessiveness) to the bible? Has an evolving “personal relationship” brought about an individual hermeneutic, entailing strong emotional certainties highly difficult to overcome?

    • I’ll end up saying this awkwardly, but here goes.

      My impression is that this tendency toward subjectivism, the emphasis on the inner feeling of conversion, the subjective conviction of personal salvation, the calls to seek God “within” — all this in a way violates the essence of Christian faith or is a way of short circuiting that life. That is, faith (trust in Jesus) requires living in a certain amount of uncertainty, whereas the subjective conviction that one has been saved sidesteps that uncertainty. That’s how Luther (the Augustinian monk) overcame his spiritual crisis–by willing his own salvation before death. This emotional element is very powerful in many people’s lives, as a brief survey of history will show. Certainly this is a constant in the history of Protestantism. For a look at its manifestations in Catholic piety, cf Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm. Eric Voegelin in his Science, Politics, and Gnosticism identifies these tendencies as “gnostic.” Any examination of the Jansenist movement confirms that to me (as usual, the Augustinian antecedents are no accident).

  • Originally you were Peter Enns, then you were Pete Enns, now on your new blog and book, you are once again Peter Enns. Are you trying for the N. T. Wright/ Tom Wright thing or what?

    • peteenns

      Trying to keep one step ahead of the Christian Taliban.

      • LOL. Where’s the Like button when you need one?

        • LOL works.

        • Which reminds me – it’s a shame that Patheos does not have the functions that other hosts such as WordPress offer. It would be great to be able to ‘subscribe’ to a post and automatically get followup comments, but I don’t think this is possible here – its it?

  • J. Johnson

    This may be way over simplified or completely wrong. But I have always believed that the Bible was written by man but completely inspired by God. While a miss spelled word might of happenned I don’t believe false accounts did. When God reveals himself to us I don’t think He is going to make up stories. He doesn’t need too. I believe in Adam and Eve, the flood, Abraham and Moses. Why would God who tells us to call Him father and daddy lie to us about who He is or how He did things?
    Time is another story He gave time to us to help us. I know not to box Him in; as time in the bible doesn’t always mean the same to us as it does to God. For example all of the people who tried to figure out what God ment by numbers and time to find the day or year that Christ returns. Maybe a day to Him is three seconds to us or five years. But I believe creation happenned like the Bible said it did and have no doubts that it could of happenned in 6 days if God so wished. I take God at His Word while I don’t always get it I do believe it. I even believe in the donkey that talked to Paul. Is that a silly way to look at things am I missing something big? I always wonder why there is such different views about those stories when it seems so simple and seriously worry that I am missing something big.

    • Larry S.

      Do u happen to have the bible that has a donkey talking to Paul? 🙂

    • peteenns

      J., the donkey talked to Balaam in the OT, not Paul in the NT. Honest boo-boo. Don’t think of it as God lying. Think of it as us trying to understand the type of literature we are reading and from an ancient point of view. So, when Gen 1 says that the cosmos was created in 6 days and I draw the conclusion that the cosmos wasn’t created that way, I am no saying “God lied” but “what do we have the right to expect from ancient literature. It’s roughly like a a parent who presents things to his/her 5 year old child–a parent enters into a child’s worldview and speaks to them from that point of view. That is not lying, just good parenting.

      • AHH

        I’ve used the example of telling a young child who is about to get a sibling that there is a “baby in Mommy’s tummy”. Of course that is scientifically false; the stomach and the uterus are different organs. But it gets the point across when a rigorous scientific explanation would not.
        If we don’t condemn the parents in my example as liars, maybe our heavenly Parent is also allowed to lower himself and communicate in terms that get the message across to finite humanity.
        Somewhere there is a quote where Calvin talked about God’s speech to us necessarily being like baby talk …

  • eric kunkel

    It is funny, a synchronicity, that I pulled Mark Noll just recently when thinking of this.

    Interesting philosophical points above. I have always felt the pull of Aristotle more than Plato in St. Thomas, but I will think about this. In any case, Christians are often caught with their Hellenism exposed. Sometimes this has brought great clarity other times not.

    Pete, I agree with you on narratives. Of course the whole world is in a narrative crisis, or a meta-narrative one and many levels, general and specific. Its the best of times and the worst of times for the Evangelical Mind.

    Previously I have argued that these issues are meta-theoretical: philosophy of science and world-view, not proof texts and fossils.

    But I do find the sociological aspects intriguing. There may be a parallel in Prohibition. When Christians cast their lot with social reformers and “took the pledge” to drink no intoxicating liquor and when it became the law of the land, well there was no turning back.

    BTW, I like Shirley’s story above.

    Another thing. Even to be Evangelical has had so many Evolving meanings. That is its own sociological saga. It is my understanding that Evangelical Lutherans in this country are less conservative than the Missourians.

    Then there are the Bereans ….

  • James Elliott

    Whenever we aquire knowledge or gain experience we must rewrite our personal narrative. That’s related to spiritual growth and the development of Christian character. The problem we have is to assimilate the current explosion of knowledge and relate it to biblical interpretation and Christian experience. Apparently, we aren’t very good at coping with change; evolution has been around for a long time.

  • I have always felt the pull of Aristotle more than Plato in St. Thomas, but I will think about this. In any case, Christians are often caught with their Hellenism exposed. Sometimes this has brought great clarity other times not.

    While Aristotle was in his later work a critic of Plato, Aristotle’s philosophy is, when all is said and done, a development of Platonism. Substance is the “really real” in Aristotle’s thought, corresponding to Form/Idea in Plato. Etienne Gilson makes this point in Being and Some Philosopher.

    This “inner Platonism” in Aristotelian thought helps explain the direction that Aristotelianism took beginning in the late Middle Ages. Gilson refers to this type of thought as “essentialism,” as opposed to Aquinas’ philosophy of being as act. A later extremely influential permutation of this type of thought was Suarezianism, named after the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez, whose political thought had a strong influence on Protestant “Reformed” thought. Suarez also exercised, through Dutch thinkers like Grotius, considerable influence on English Protestants like John Locke and the American Founding Fathers. In metaphysics, his thought influenced Descartes and Kant. Generally speaking, the “scholasticism” that Benedict XVI reacted so strongly against (cf. his Salt of the Earth) was not Thomism but a form of Suarezianism. There’s a very long, important, but little known history to where we are now.

    Of course I’m not suggesting a Jesuit conspiracy or anything like that. The only conspiracy is one of silence regarding the influence of Spanish Jesuits on early liberal thought. It’s amusing to think of, although perhaps not meriting a LOL. Actually, Thomas Jefferson possessed a copy of Robert Filmer’s book, Patriarcha. Filmer was James I’s personal theologian and wrote the book in defense of the theory of the divine right of kings. The book is a long attempt to refute the theories of another famous Jesuit theologian and cardinal, Robert Bellarmine. Bellarmine was an advocate of popular sovereignty and one is therefore not surprised to find close similarities of expression and thought in some of Jefferson’s own writings, such as The Declaration of Independence. Bellarmine’s reputation came under a cloud when, at the direct order of the Pope, he became involved in the Galileo case.

    “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
    Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979]

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. “George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1

  • Apologies for getting off on a bit of a tangent. The subtext to all that is that Aquinas, while certainly influenced by Aristotle, is not an Aristotelian. His philosophy is based on the idea of God as Pure Act, an idea utterly foreign to Aristotle’s or any other Greek’s thought–but very congenial to the Christian doctrine of creation.

  • Woops, one more bit of subtext. Gilson, writing in the 1930s, insisted that Aquinas’ thought was a metaphysics of the Name of God, or, a metaphysics of Exodus. The reference is the Name of God as “I Am,” as well as to the idea of God as creator–the purely active cause of all that exists. Sadly, Ratzinger/Benedict never got the memo and so mourns, in hopelessly wrongheaded fashion, the “dehellenization” of the West. Note to Benedict: the West is more Hellenic than ever. Whitehead was and remains correct.

  • beth

    so, good parenting might mean telling your child the stork brought him? i would not consider that good parenting, i would consider that lying. if you want your children to trust you, why would you tell them a story about a stork?

  • Michael


    It utterly baffles the even partially intelligent mind that individuals such as many on this forum actually belive what you are saying.

    It is like listening to straight-jacketed lunatics arguing about what planet the alines who abducted them are from.

    Evolution is not a theory.

    If you insane people want to make a valid, sophisticated argument about the truth of creationism, do it in the context of the evolution and maybe you want sounds like so crazy.

  • Dale

    Dr. Enns,
    I wonder if you are painting evangelicals with a broad brush. Furthermore, I think it is possible to accept the explanations of process provided to us by evolution without necessarily accepting the illegitimate metaphysical claims of some of the more outspoken and/or religiously hostile evolutionists. Now with my two cents out of the way – I know you are always advising us to seek and use Wisdom, but can I please show this to one of my pastors back home who is, shall we say, less favorable to evolution? Please…?

  • Joaozinho Martins

    Greetings! Evangelicals are not feeling threatened by evolution. The truth is that The Theory of Evolution has no scientific base as is obvious from the fact that there so many scientists who openly admit evolution is impossible. For a sample of anti-evolution statements visit:> As long as scientists do not subscribe to the evolutionary myths as established scientific truth, the question of feeling threatened by evolution doesn’t arise. Let all the scientists unitedly accept the theory of evolution as true science before charging evangelicals of feeling threatened by evolution. To learn more about God’s Works of Creation, kindly visit: Thanks!

  • ontilt_247

    Who created god?

  • truecreation_dot_info

    So what if creation science doesn’t follow the scientific method? Why not teach both? Teach the controversy, as they say? Proponents of creation science and intelligent design insist that schools and colleges should introduce these ideas into their curriculum under the guise of “critical thinking”. Real science is critical thinking. The entire basis for the scientific method is critical thinking — questioning assumptions and testing assertions. Creation science and intelligent design are not critical thinking. They are based on faith. They presume a truth from the beginning and refuse to question it. If the truth is “Jesus provides the redemption from mankind’s sinful nature,” I can agree with them. There are other truths revealed in the Bible on which I am sure we can also agree.

    However, if their so-called truths also include “the Earth is 6000 years old” or “All of the stars and galaxies were created in a literal 24-hour day” or “God did not use biological evolution to achieve the diversity of life on Earth,” I have a problem with this being taught under the guise of “critical thinking.” In each case they have presumed an incorrect truth and then try to apply scientific principles to back it up. This is not science by any definition of the word. By applying the scientific method and using logic and evidence-based reasoning, we know with a great degree of certainty that the Earth is billions of years old, that stars and galaxies form over millions of years via the gravitational interaction of gas and dust, and that humans and other life forms on Earth share a common ancestry that goes back hundreds of millions of years. Creation scientists and ID proponents accuse scientists of making assumptions as well. What they fail to state is that these assumptions are based upon prior demonstrated theories such as the theories of gravity, molecular physics and nuclear physics. There is a long chain of supporting evidence that in the end, rests entirely on basic facts, logic, and mathematics. Scientists will always debate the minutiae of any theory. However, there are no assumptions in the core concepts of the modern theories of star formation and biological evolution that aren’t backed by a strong chain of evidence-based reasoning. Creation science proponents wish to remove reason and objective logic (both deductive and inductive) as cornerstones of the scientific method and replace them with a “solid” foundation of opinion-based Biblical interpretation and presuppositional logic. Intelligent design proponents have a similar goal but they don’t even agree among themselves on basic theologic concepts. In situations where the opinions vary wildly, presuppositional logic will yield wildly differing answers. Both the creation science and intelligent design camps are advocating relativism over absolute truth when it comes to determining how the natural world operates.

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