Theistic Evolution vs. Evolutionary Creationists

Theistic Evolution vs. Evolutionary Creationists August 23, 2012

Jason Rosenhouse, about whose book Among the Creationists we have had some posts, has recently weighed in on a shift in expressions. To wit, instead of calling their view “theistic evolution” many now call themselves “evolutionary creationists.” Here is a clip from Jason with my response after the jump:

I stand by that post, but lately I’ve been noticing theistic evolutionists themselves seem determined to undermine my argument. Consider, for example, the subtitle of this article from Christianity Today:

How two evangelicals—one a young-earth creationist, the other an evolutionary creationist—have lived out their faith and professions.

That phrase “evolutionary creationist,” has been appearing more and more lately. I find it disturbing, and frankly it’s the kind of thing that makes me worry that I need to rethink my earlier post. Part of the problem is the use of the word “creationist.” That word is nowadays so debauched and disreputable, that if you insist on applying it to yourself you should not be surprised when people lump you in with the fundamentalists.

But that’s not the main issue. The distinction between the two expressions is this: In the phrase “theistic evolution,” it is the evolution that is front and center. The theistic part is an add-on. It’s saying, in effect, that the science is paramount and that any talk of God is something you do at night after you leave the lab. I approve of that formulation. It puts the emphasis where it belongs. I have all sorts of criticisms to make of theistic evolution, but I do not see it as anti-science or anything like that.

Contrast this with “evolutionary creation.” Now the emphasis is on creation. The focus is on what God did. Science’s contribution, the evolution part, is to reveal something about God. It is a throwback to the bad old days when science was just the handmaiden of religion. Mind you, this is not me overanalyzing things. This is precisely how the defenders of the term “evolutionary creation,” explain the distinction themselves.

Yes, I’ve seen the same shift and I have had the same kind of question: Will “evolutionary creationist” suggest that former theistic evolutionists are now on the side of the scientific creationists, even though they are miles apart from one another on this issue?

I’d like to hear your view, but here is how I would size this up:

First, yes, giving the term “creationists” precedence by making it the noun instead of the adjective shifts the perception/message from what science knows (evolution) to how science is packaged or perceived. That is, the whole is now seen as God’s creation. The shift of nouns is a shift of perception at some level, and it may be an expression some are using to express fellowship with their fellow evangelicals who are scientific creationists, and it may be used to get some critics off their back. But…

Second, Jason, this is what theistic evolutionists have believed — more or less, depending on the scholar, etc — all along. Theistic evolution gets the ball rolling with God, after all. What theistic evolution means is that evolution happened and God guided or directed or set it in motion (here one can discuss potentialities, Owen Gingerich, et al). So while the two expressions are more or less the same the latter actually drops God from direct mention.

Third, “theistic evolution” is actually a firmer God-belief while “evolutionary creationism” is a stronger statement about mechanics — how it happened. Starting it out with “evolutionary” is a deal-breaker immediately for the scientific creationist, who despises the adequacy of the term “evolution” as inconsistent with the Christian faith. So while EC may be seen as siding with the creationists (Ken Ham, ID, et al) it’s opening act with “evolutionary” immediately eliminates that connection.

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