Theistic Evolution: Core Tenets

Theistic Evolution: Core Tenets August 30, 2012

From BioLogos by Ted Davis:

Core Tenets or Assumptions of Theistic Evolution

(1) The Bible is NOT a reliable source of scientific knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe, including living things—because it was never intended to teach us about science.

(2) The Bible IS a reliable source of knowledge about God and spiritual things.

(3) Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.

(4) The creation story in Genesis 1 is a confession of faith in the true creator, intended to refute pantheism and polytheism, not to tell us how God actually created the world.

(5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created.

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  • Link to BioLogos is broken……

  • What the core tenets really mean:

    (1) The Bible is NOT reliable. While not intended to teach us about science, it still comments on science. However, since such comments are scientifically wrong (based on our current scientific views), it cannot be used as source of scientific knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe, including living things.

    (2) The Bible IS a reliable source of knowledge about God and spiritual things. Even though we have no reason to trust it here, since we know it is in error elsewhere.

    (3) Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.

    (4) The creation story in Genesis 1 is a confession of faith in the true creator, intended to refute pantheism and polytheism, not to tell us how God actually created the world. Never mind that it does tell us how God created—God spoke and it was so, all done in six days. That part is just wrong.

    (5) The Bible tells us THAT God created, not how God created. Well, again, it does tell us how. It’s just wrong.

  • Andrew

    Well, I’m glad to see (clicking on “Chuck McKnight”) that that name was not a pseudonym / imperative verb phrase referring to the author of this blog. =)

    Your blog states, “I will gladly discuss (but not debate) creationism with those who are interested.” Does not your comment here open yourself up to debate? Just wondering.

  • Val

    Chuck, I have a little compare/contrast chart in my notes at the back of my bible, it goes like this: column 1 (Genesis 1’s timeline of creation) column 2 (Genesis 2s timeline of creation), they don’t even match. So, science agreeing or disagreeing is largely besides the point. For literalists – who are honest, not massaging the two chapters to say something they don’t – why is Genesis 1 correct and Genesis 2 incorrect. Was man made before plants and animals followed by woman, or were man and woman created after plants and animals? Don’t bother to argue they are saying the same thing, chapter 2 is not honing in on the Big picture, it is a separate creation story all together, complete with the creation of man and woman separately, man before other animals and plants who are all before woman. And in Gen. 1 God is an assured speaker of things into being, in Gen. 2 God looks like he is fumbling around before he gets to Eve – via an operation and rib removal, not a spoken word. So, until literalists give a half-way decent answer to the Genesis problem, I am not too concerned about science being separate.

  • Bev Mitchell

    (3) Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible—it is simply not a science book.

    Depends on what this really means. New knowledge from science (heliocentric solar system, ANE archeological findings, strong genetic relationship between humans and other animals etc.) are very important for proper interpretation of Scripture. The facts on the ground, once we accept them as facts, can cause some serious rethinking of how we read Scripture. If we are wise, our current interpretations will even try to anticipate some of the future discoveries of science. That is, we should avoid boxing ourselves into a corner by trying to concentrate on the heart of Scripture. We have some distance to go on this, and it would make a great ecumenical project.

  • All five work for me, except #4. It doesn’t go far enough. Certainly there is a refutation of polytheism and pantheism but I think there is something much more profound being said. I’m taken with John Walton’s study showing Gen 1 as version of the ANE narrative, God building God’s holy temple and filling it with functionaries.

  • Rob

    Well, at least this is being honest. I totally do NOT agree with these tenets. Theistic evolution is nothing more than deism. Period.

  • RJS


    You disagree with these tenets, fine – but how in the world do these bring us to “nothing more than deism. Period.”?
    I’ve heard people make this claim about theistic evolution – and for some suggestions as to the role and action of God I tend to agree. That is, going beyond these tenets, when some describe the way God can act in the world, I do think the description borders on deism, or may be best described as deism. But I don’t see it in these tenets.

    Deism denies an active, personal, relational God – and none of these tenets do that at all. In saying that the Bible is a reliable source of knowledge about God and spiritual things I would say (and have many times) that it is a reliable source of knowledge concerning the relationship of God with his creation, with humans who are his image bearers in the world.

  • Rob

    There’s just not enough room here nor time to go into how many ways theistic evolution falls short. I see it as a belief in the superiority of reason while still trying to throw the idea of God in there. I’ve heard the arguments about “undeniable science” and I am frankly appalled at the level of unbelief in the Western church today with ideas such as theistic evolution. It flies in the face of God and makes a mockery of the authority of Scripture. I am of the belief that the Bible should tell us what we believe and science provides the evidence. And where scientific evidence falls short or doesn’t appear to match, it is because we haven’t found enough imperical evidence yet, not that the Bible means something else. I apologize if this offends anyone. Offense is not what I am going for. But I don’t apologize for speaking what I believe is the truth.

  • scotmcknight

    Rob, you’ve changed the terms of discussion in comment #9 – it went from Deism to the authority of Scripture.

  • RJS


    All of that expresses a rather common view. But it does not explain how the 5 tenets here are nothing more than deism.

  • Rob

    This should be self-evident. Theistic evolution says God created the beginnings of everything and then (contrary to Scripture) allowed things to evolve over a period of millions of years. They site imperical evidence and their understanding of the interpretation of that evidence as the basis for their belief. Deism is the belief that God created everything and then ceased to be involved in His creation, maintaining His distance and aloofness. Although many may theistic evolutionists may deny believing in the details of deism, their adherance to TE tells a different story.

  • DRT

    My only quibble is rephrasing #1

    The Bible WAS NEVER intended to teach us about science, therefore it is not a reliable source of scientific knowledge about the origin of the earth and the universe, including living things.

    The other version is too confrontational given the context.

  • scotmcknight

    Rob, it’s unfair to theistic evolutionists for you to pretend to know what they really think when they are denying what you think they are saying. TEs always claim a personal God — let’s name some: Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson — and here you are asserting, against their own statements, that what they really believe in is an impersonal detached God. The TEs I know think God was intimately involved in that evolutionary process, and that a personal God was guiding that process.

    One of the lessons we learn in ministry is to describe another person’s view in terms that person would approve. I’m not sure you have done this this time. In fact, I’m disturbed by our aggression on this one. (Say hello to Dean for me.)

  • RJS


    In other words your argument about deism has nothing to do with the tenets here, but with what you take the over all position of Theistic Evolution to entail.

    I don’t deny God’s ongoing involvement in creation any more than I deny God’s sovereignty over the weather or God’s action in forming the Psalmist in his mother’s womb. (And I don’t deny God’s sovereignty over weather or his action in forming in the womb – the scientific explanations are not over and against the action of God.)

    Deism is a problem, inconsistent with the entire sweep of scripture. Theistic evolution may be wrong, but it isn’t deism.

    I rather doubt we disagree much about the power and action of God. I expect we do disagree about the nature and purpose of scripture and the way in which scripture is authoritative.

  • A question I always have about Theistic Evolution is whether it makes any scientific claims at all.

    Does TE argue that beginning of life is highly improbable without divine intervention, and that science should consider that improbability relevant?

    Does TE agree that the existence of rational beings after a long stretch of non-sentient beings is a relevant fact that science should consider: that evolution has a teleological goal?

    If not, it seems to not really be a ‘scientific view’ at all, since it’s saying it has no impact on science.

  • CGC

    Hi Rob (and all),
    First off, I don’t think deism is anything close to Christians who believe in Scripture and evolution on this list. Many of the Christians who believe in evolution also believe God acts in His creation, often are non-cessationistic in their theology, and experience God in deep and personal ways. On the other hand, I sometimes even think theism can sound more like the ‘god of the philosophers’ and sound overly intellectual with little passion or heart for the Living God. And yet many Christians identify with theism in God being personal even though there is nothing inherently within the term ‘theism’ itself that one has to believe in a living-personal God. One could just as well believe in a theory or worldview without any encounter of God at all and call themself a “theist.”

    Lastly, do you really believe the Bible is teaching science? modern science? what kind of science? Is Genesis chapter one really not about refuting polytheism and false cosmology? (worship of earth, sun, stars, moon, creation, etc.). Since this discussion is in the context of the Bible and science, how does the Bible scientifically tell us “how” God created things? And someone saying God created man from the dust or creation out of nothing, is that really an explantion of how God specifically created things in the context of the original statement and question?

    I understand people saying I don’t agree with evolution? But I do find it incredulous for someone to say, “I totally do not agree with these five tenets.” Totally? Really? And if someone wants to say that the Bible is a science book (usually reading modern science into the Scriptures which has nothing to do with the original writers worldview or intention), why is it that the earliest Christians did not read the Bible as a book of science? Why did the early church fathers actually teach that reading Genesis in an overly literal way (including science) is not the right way to read the Bible? And despite the concern for the authority of the Scriptures, I find it ironic that science actually kind of even dethrones Scripture since a certain scientific way of studying the Scripture is often promoted or a certain kind of science is interpreted from Scripture to give the Scripture justification or more credibility. is it Scripture or science that is the real authority?

    On another related note, how many times have I heard a supposed “high view of Scripture” wed to a theory of inerrancy where the real Bible ends up being in the ‘original autographs” that we don’t even posses. This is why some of these issues to some of us seem like phantoms and ghosts and building sand castles in a storm that simply will not hold up to closer inspection.

  • Rob

    Scot, I can assure you, no aggression was meant. Passion, maybe. But please know that I always mean to be civil. On the larger picture, I cannot understand how one can claim a belief in TE without having their beliefs eventually fall into the realm of deism. Maybe that’s my bad. Maybe some do acknowledge God’s interaction even in evolution, but my experience is that many don’t. But I stand by my assessment in the fallacy of theistic evolution anyway. The tenents mentioned above (that was the original discussion) smack of unbelief and making the Bible say what people want it to instead of reading it for what it does say.

  • Rob

    And I will tell Dean you said hello.

  • AHH

    Well, there’s core and there’s core. Earlier in the essay Davis gives what I would call the “core” of the viewpoint:
    the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans
    And that’s really all you need for TE (aka evolutionary creation) — affirming that God is the creator and that evolution describes part of the process of how God did it.

    Beyond that, I would say these 5 points are not essential, although probably they are more-or-less held by 90% of the orthodox Christians who would fall in this classification, including me. [I say orthodox Christians because some people who hold the TE position would be in the camp of theological liberalism and would for example reject #2.] But there are, for example, some TEs in that other 10% who do read science in the Bible but still think the Bible is consistent with the fact of evolution.
    I always get nervous when things are labeled “core” (such as theological doctrines) that are not really at the fundamental core level.

    And the deism slander needs to stop — most of us TEs absolutely affirm that God continues “to be involved in his creation”, we just see God’s involvement in natural history (in addition to the involvement in salvation history that we all accept) as being less in interventionist gaps and more in God’s sovereignty over the whole fabric of creation, including the things we call “natural”.

  • CGC

    Hi Rob,
    You seem to not really understand theistic evolution although you understand deism. Deism believes in a god who created the world and is impersonal and left the world on its own to fend for itself. Theistic evolution says God is involved in the evolution process and God is still active in the process of evolution. If God is still involved in the process today, how is that deism?

    My quess is you are thinking of atheist evolutionists who leave God out of the equation and process altogether. If you want to think of evolution in only those terms you can but it is totally unfair as Scot said to define Christians who happen to believe in the science of evolution by the categories of naturalism and atheism.

  • Rob and pduggie,

    I am a theistic evolutionist. My starting point for understanding God is not Genesis 1 but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this event that interprets everything that came before it and shapes everything that comes after it. From Jesus we know that we are sinners in need of repentance. We know that the Kingdom of God is now here and is reshaping the world.

    Knowledge of the particulars of what happened in the dark recesses of prehistory aren’t necessary to appreciate that we are fallen and in need of a Messiah. There is vastly more about God that we don’t know than what we do know. There is vastly more we don’t know about what happened in prehistory than what we do know. God entered into an Ancient Near Eastern context and made God’s self known in ways people in that context could comprehend. What he has revealed is sufficient (for them and for us) to come to faith and receive the in-breaking of the Kingdom. God has not seen it necessary to answer our every curiosity about particulars.

    I am fully persuaded that we arrived here by evolution. I’m fully persuaded that God created all that is and has in some way been superintending the created order. I can postulate all sorts of ways this paradox might be resolved. I think it is perfectly fine to reflect on it. But I do not believe we will ever truly know what happened (at least until the consummation of the Kingdom, and maybe not then.) There is mystery. Not everything has been revealed to us nor need it be.

  • Rob

    I don’t need to be right in this matter on the deism issue, folks. And I apologize if I have mischaracterized the situation. I will say that I believe Genesis is very clear and that there really is no biblical ground for believing in TE. When one’s belief rests on what our interpretation of “modern science” is over the simplicity of the Bible, I think we have overstepped our place. And to the questions as to whether the Bible is a science book, I think that is a misdirected question. The Bible is the Word of God. You can debate on the gact that we don’t have the original manuscripts all you want, but in the end you’re on shaky ground. God is fully able to preserve His Word.

  • Rob

    Michael W. Kruse, I think you are correct when saying there is mystery and we will never truly (I would say FULLY know, not “truly”) what happened because none of us were actually there. All we have really is God’s point of view and He was the only one who was there. Therefore, if God said He created the world in six days, why are we trying to say He didn’t? To do so is to see what is in the Bible and say that it really doesn’t mean what it says. And I don’t see any use of literary tools in the account (such as hyberbole like Jesus used frequently). It says God spoke the things into being in six days. Why is that so hard to believe? Is it because we see science saying something else? Maybe that’s because we don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, folks. A portion of a puzzle could look like a totally different picture until you get all the pieces put in place and I just don’t see us having all the scientific pieces to make that kind of judgement. But we do have the box top.

  • scotmcknight

    Rob, the issue is finally between your “interpretation” of Genesis 1-3 and other interpretations of the same passages. This isn’t simply about believing the Bible vs. not believing the Bible, but between your creationist reading and a reading, say, of John Walton seeing it as the world as God’s cosmos and setting up functionaries. (Have you read Walton’s book? Good one. Very much by that of a believer.) This isn’t then about Deism vs. Theism, nor between TEs vs. creationists, but whether or not one traditional reading of Genesis 1-3 is the most accurate reading of the Bible. I say No. Science, in fact, has pushed us to reconsider, and that’s not a bad thing. What is a bad thing is to hold on to a traditionalist reading in the face of evidence to the contrary.

  • Rob

    And what is this evidence to the contrary? And are you sure that science’s interpretation is 100% accurate? (And please accept my apologies for mischaracterizing the belief of TE’s in linking it to deism. It was wrong of me.)

  • CGC

    Hi Rob,
    You are probably right that some of us have overstepped our place of possibly putting science as the queen of the sciences over scripture or re-interpreting the first few chapters of Genesis because modern philosophy or modern science or whatever says it can not have happened “literally” or “historically” a certain way. Some of us have also read the Bible in a canonical, theological traditon (Jewish and early Christian interpreters, etc.), or ANE context where evolution or any other modern scientific discovery or laws of nature of the universe was never a problem to begin with (like we had to choose between either Scripture or Science like they were conflcting competing enemies). The problem is not there because some of us are not locked into a certain way of interpreting Scripture that if examined historically, flows more from modern concerns than ancient ones.

    You have said and used terms like things are “self-evident” and reading Genesis is “very clear.”
    Why don’t we follow the Apostle Paul who said “we know in part” rather than using the modern language of “self-evident” truths? Wouldn’t it be better to follow Job who repented in his response to knowing God and realized he did not know as much about God as he thought? What about starting with the ancient Eastern Orthodox apophatic tradition that doesn’t start theology with what we know about God but that we don’t know?

  • Rob

    CGC, fair enough. Let’s go with Job. “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?…Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:2,4) When it comes down to incomplete science which is leading to the interpretation of evidence that is from man’s limited understanding vs. God’s revealed Word, I’ll go with God’s revealed Word. And the “we know in part” part, I totally agree. That’s my point exactly. That’s why I think it is so dangerous to come up with a belief (and be honest here, that’s what both of our views are because we weren’t there to witness it) that contradicts what Genesis says.

  • CGC

    Hi Rob,
    I appreciate your last few gracious remarks. We can in the end agree to disagree but I for one don’t think even your words about the six days of creation is as simple as you suggest. Did God literally walk in the garden? Does God have legs? As ludicrous as this sounds, why do we take these words as analogus or as anthromorphism but don’t see analogies in regards to ‘days’ or other parts of our reading of Genesis? Just to show how different we are to the earliest Christian interpreters, Origen (who died a martyrs death for his faith in Christ) said how can anyone take the trees in the garden literally? (trees are typically something that is not an issue for us today but obviously it was for Origen in the second century). I sometimes wish modern science would look at the history of science to put things in some perspective just like I wish modern Christians would look at the whole history of interpretation of the church, especially the early church fathers to put some things in perpective for us as well today!

  • Rob #24, Genesis is not a reporter-on-scene recording of actual events. It is a story crafted in the genre of Ancient Near East creation narratives. It as an expression of the truth of who God is and his purposes for creation within the context of that genre.

    The Ancient Hebrews understood the world to be flat and surrounded by water. There was a translucent dome over the earth with water above it. There were gates/windows in the dome that God opened to make it rain. The heavenly bodies traveled across this dome. Here is pictorial representation:

    Genesis 1:7 says, “So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome.” Genesis 1:20 speaks of the birds “flying across the dome of the sky.” Genesis 7:11 says the windows of heaven (literally “lattice windows”) were opened and waters came from the fountains of the great deep.

    There are passages like this scattered throughout scripture. The world does not function this way. Is the Bible therefore in error? No. It is communicating to, and reflecting truth from within, a primitive culture without scientific knowledge. God used the genres and modes of communication that were native to that time and place to reveal God’s self. Communicating in ways that comport with modern scientific understanding would have been madness to the ancient Hebrews.

    Scripture answers where we came from and for what purpose are we and the world are here. It does not reveal science or always concern itself with history as we think of it history in the modern sense, especially with regard to prehistory, which the first eleven chapters of Genesis address.

  • Val

    Rob #26 are you sure science’s interpretations are accurate? Do you mean Theories? Everything taught in a science classroom today? 50 years ago? Latest published findings and hypothesis? Or just the stuff that contradicts with AiG and RTB’s interpretations?

    I would imagine that most people accept the theories of science (gravity, heliocentric solar system, etc.), only the basics are taught in high school/non-majors classrooms, and often not very well. Things are always changing in Science, similar to history and biblical scholarship. Go back 80 years and the Dead Sea Scrolls were not yet discovered, the archaeological evidence for Genesis 2 -11 shadowing ANE texts was in its infancy and few people beyond archaeologists and biblical scholars had a good understanding of what was showing up. Things change, new discoveries open up new doors.

    A good science teacher will explain that a scientific theory is a well tested explanatory framework capable of making accurate predictions as opposed to an hypothesis which is only a provisional explanation which has not yet been tested thoroughly. Consider that gravity is also a theory (not a fact) like evolution. Do you doubt and question gravity? Wonder if people have lost their faith in God if they believe in gravity? and insist God personally pulls you back to earth every time you jump? Some would say God is in charge of every little action and reaction, others would say it is part of his great creation and works just fine on its own. Both could have an equally strong faith in God.

  • phil_style

    @Rob, the accusation that theistic evolution is “nothing short of deism” is no more accurate than the accusation that the natural process of gestation is deism.

    Does God create people in the womb, or does nature? OR is it both…..

  • Tenets 1-3 is basically a statement of the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), with the final two relying on NOMA.

    NOMA fails because it has a mistaken definition of both science and religion. Religion can make statements about scientific facts. One obvious one is historical facts. The study of history is a science. Science can make statements about religious matters, such as the origin of the universe and life itself. Christians use science to try and prove Mormonism wrong. The two very much overlap; they just use different methods of obtaining the same truths or same information.

    “NOMA is wrong, but is a good first tool for gaining trust… to help [religious students] accept evolution.” Bora Zivkovic

  • phil_style

    @ Thinker Handbook,

    Careful, you’re equating “religion” in YOUR comment, with “the bible” in the 5 tenets.

    Tenets 1-3 are, therefore, not statements about NOMA, they are statements about the relationship between a specific body of literature and science.

  • Norman

    CGC mentioned the trees in the garden; well Ezekiel sure seemed to have a non-literal view of those trees in describing them as representative of Tree nations found in the Garden but fallen in nature and not able to sustain the animals and birds in their branches any more. Ezekiel posits in Chp 17 that a tender twig would be cut out and planted on the mountain of God and it will become the Tree of life.

    Eze 17:23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.

    Christ picks up on that Garden tree analogy in Matt and plants the Kingdom seed that fulfills Eze 17.

    Mat 13:32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

    I would venture that Genesis does not even match up with ANE creation accounts but is simply metaphorical story telling. At least that is the way Ezekiel appears to have interpreted the Genesis Garden which is surely a Jewish method that had nothing to do with woodenly literalizing the Garden Trees. Daniel does the same thing in the story of King Nebs fallen kingdom through the Tree Nation metaphor.

    So when we have expectations of demanding a literal reading of Genesis perhaps we would be well served to have performed a good examination of the ancient Jews interpretations and see how literally they interpreted it. There’s plenty of their literature that debunks our modern literal approach that we somehow acquired.

  • Phil, where do we get the tenets of the Christian religion? From the Bible. The Bible lays out the Christian religion. Here the Bible and religion can be equated.

    Tenets 1-3 is basically a statement of the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), with the final two relying on NOMA.

    NOMA fails because it has a mistaken definition of both science and the Bible. The Bible can make statements about scientific facts. One obvious one is history. The Bible claims to make historical statements and record historical truths. The study of history is a science. Science can make statements about religious matters, including the Bible, such as the origin of the universe and life itself. Christians use science to try and prove Mormonism wrong. Christians use science to find the correct interpretation of Genesis or the biblical flood. The two very much overlap; they just use different methods of obtaining the same truths or same information.

    The 5 tenets of theistic evolution as stated above are flawed from the beginning since they assume NOMA, which itself is flawed.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Interesting discussion. But what seems to be missing is the idea of unfolding – that is, the dynamism of what God has made possible and continues to make possible. As we were saying the other day, the resurrection of our Lord is the most perfect creation event revealed in Scripture. Beside that unique act of God, the rest of material reality is simply good and very good, and it is the product of a long unfolding. If we want to move seamlessly from truth as determined by observation of the material world to truth as revealed in Scripture, we must get rid of the static, fixed views that pervade discussions of this sort.

    An orthodox Christian understanding of Scripture should see dynamism, change, growth, evolution, everywhere. It begins, for Christians, with a relationship. This relationship is not a single event, it is a process, a daily dying to self that Christ might live in us.  Working backwards, Israel’s relationship with its God is a very long process – a rocky evolution.  Moving back still further, creation is not a single event, it is a process – for life, a 3.7 billion year process. From this perspective we can move seamlessly from Scriptural revelation to biological, geological and chemical facts, for our best science agrees that all we know in a material way is the result of a process – a process that continues. 

    It is most helpful to think process, unfolding, and, for believers, to add a loving creator who makes all this process possible and sustains it. This includes, of course, the unfolding of the material world and the unfolding of our relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. We serve a very active God. He is doing great things. They are all related, and all truth is his. He has made, is making and will continue to make it all possible. And, we do not need to point to specific places along the way where he intervened – it’s all his idea.

    In thinking this way, we certainly do not include God as part of creation as does process theology. We do, however, have to envision a God who cares. A God who suffers when we suffer, a God who does not always get his way because in making everything possible, he also made and makes freedom possible. His acts of making possible include allowing creation to become and allowing sentient beings to say no to him, to rebel against him, to ignore him, to conclude that he does not even exist. As believers, our challenge is to look to his Spirit for the faith to believe that his perfect love is so completely effective that his will will ultimately prevail. 

    In short, this entire discussion boils down to our fundamental view of God. Do we envision a God who by application of his almighty power controls everything, or a God who by application of his perfect love grants libertarian freedom – the real ability to say no, to rebel? These views are fundamental, and fundamentally different. Only with the second view do we have a hope of being able to make the necessary smooth transition from the truth of God’s works to the truth of God’s word.

    We must clearly decide, up front, which view of God we will take, because the path our thinking takes, the trace of our logic, depends utterly on our starting point. Assuming they are reasonable and logical, two people cannot each take one of these starting points and end up in the same place somewhere down the road. 

  • phil_style

    @ Thinker’s Handbook, #36;

    where do we get the tenets of the Christian religion? From the Bible.
    No. It’s more complex than that. We get the “tenets” from historical creeds, from faith community, from the bible – and some would claim from the Holy Spirit. the “tenets” are not 100% identical between all groups that call themselves christian.
    Let’s not forget that forms of Christianity existed before the Bible existed.

    The Bible lays out the Christian religion. Here the Bible and religion can be equated
    No, it does not account for it, and they cannot be equated. If we claim this, we miss the whole point of this discussion – which is a discussion about whether or not the bible really does claim the things that christian/ Christianities claim that it does.s.

    This is why the 5 theistic evolution tenets quoted in the article explicitly mention that they are a discussion on the content of the “bible” and not a creed, or other doctrinal statement.
    The 5 TE tenets are demonstrably not about NOMA, but about the literature. In fact, they are constructed deliberately in this manner to be clear about the narrowness of their applicability.

    The Bible claims to make historical statements and record historical truths.
    Perhaps – in places . But does it do this with respect to biological formation (i.e. historical origins of species)?
    That’s the issue that is at the core of the 5 tenets – (in fact, partly tenets 1,2 & 3) that the bible does NOT do this. The tenets claim the bible does NOT make such scientific statements as described above. It is, therefore, a misreading of the literature to arrive at that conclusion. Tenets 1-3 are literary statements about the content of the text.

    If we take Genesis 1 as a metaphor, foundation myth, polemic/ rhetoric or any number of other kinds of non-historical-record text – then suddenly we can see that it makes no such scientific claims.

  • Jon G

    On #3 – “Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible” – I would have to disagree. Irrelevant is such a strong term. I would say that the Bible is not “speaking” in scientific terms, but the fact that evolution is so evident has forced me to rethink my view of a number of Biblical topics including the nature of death, human ontology, biblical exegesis, etc. They two may not be equivalent, but they certainly aren’t irrelevant to each other.

    On #4 – “…intended to refute pantheism and polytheism, not to tell us how God actually created the world” – I think Peter Enns would suggest that the Pentateuch (hence Genesis 1) would not be refuting Polytheism so much as promoting “Monolatry” (sp?)…the idea that only 1 god was worthy of worship. Monotheism was a later conclusion.

  • Phil, we could argue about religion vs. the Bible, but I’ll leave it for now.

    The faults of NOMA are the same faults made here for these 5 tenets.

    1) “The Bible was never intended to teach us about science.” But the Bible does make scientific statements. For instance history, including the history of the creation of the world. It was not intended to teach us about science, but it does make scientific statements.

    3) “Scientific evidence is irrelevant to the Bible; it’s not a science book.” As I said, the Bible does make scientific statements and we use science daily to find the correct interpretation of the Bible, such as the beginnings, the flood, and Jesus’ resurrection. Scientific evidence is one of many types of evidences used for the foundation of faith. Scientific evidence is what shows that the Bible is accurate. It’s not a science book, but it does touch on matters of science.

    Now, I’m not arguing that theistic evolution is false or how God created and how long he took. What I am saying is that these tenets are flawed before they even begin, for the same reason NOMA is flawed. They assume that science and religion, or science and a piece of literature are separate and cannot be mixed. However, the Bible does speak on scientific matters, is used in scientific investigations (archaeology), and science speaks on religious and biblical matters and is used in biblical investigations.

  • The statement that the Bible is not a scientific textbook is highly distracting and irrelevant. Of course it is not a science textbook, but so what? It does speak on many scientific matters, for instance:

    1) The universe had a beginning.
    2) The order of creation.
    3) No new matter is being created.
    4) The universe is running down.
    5) Life produces life, after its own kind.
    6) Humans are made from earth-matter.
    7) The water cycle.
    8) The earth is round.
    9) The earth rests on nothing.
    10) The sea has currents and “rivers.”
    11) Ways in which disease is spread.

  • Tim

    I understand that the main points in this Biologos article are often widely proclaimed and widely held by many who try to reconcile science with their faith. And while it is certainly worthwhile to pursue this reconciliation, it does not follow that every path towards that goal is a viable one.

    In the case of the above claims, I would object that this approach is viable purely from a perspective of consistency and faithfulness to the Biblical text.

    The thing is, this contrasting of “science” as some genre of knowledge with the more “spiritual” Bible as making separate, distinct, non-overlapping claims about reality only seems viable at the most superficial level

    Now, certainly the Bible doesn’t purport to teach “science” in the sense of its modern methodology. However, the Bible certainly does make claims as to physical reality. This can include claims as to nature, history, physical processes, etc. I think even a cursory examination would reveal that while spiritual issues of of primary importance in the Biblical text, it does not deal ONLY with them.

    So, the Biblical text certainly does describe ancient cosmology. That was the ancient Hebrews understanding of nature. And this is reflected in the passages dealing with nature in the Biblical text (incl., the various passages in Genesis). It describes an understanding of biological procreation. The woman’s womb as being an empty vessel and the man’s “seed” as essentially mini embryos that take root in the womb and grow. It describes history, such as the conquest narratives. And all of these claims are something that science (astronomy, physics, biology, etc.) and fields such as archeology that incorporate science and similar methodology can say something about. Can challenge even.

    So let’s not naively separate out the Biblical text and our scientific understand of the natural world as “non-overlapping magisteria.” While politically and emotionally this might be an expedient and comforting course, it isn’t one that is that is faithful to the Biblical text.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    1. Norman, good thoughts and thanks for showing how other Scriptures outside of Genesis views some of these issues (we do seem to focus on a tree and miss the forrest 🙂

    2. Phil, you are absolutely right in showing the difference between between literary statements of the Scripture rather than the nature and function of religion in general.

    3. TH (thinkers Handbook), I think you have a point in pointing out the absolutist and polemical way some of these tenets come off. After saying that, I think there is another confusion you are making between the natural sciences and scientic studies of history which often falls under the humanities as such. You can not study the past like you study chemistry. You can not study history like one does astronomy.

    The irony is for those who want to make protests against science because somehow it undermines the authority or correct interpretation of scripture but at the same time want to subject the interpretation of Scripture to some kind of scientific methodology. What I believe is hurting Christian theology in more ways than I can count is how science does not subject itself to its own history and now the Bible is a object or test subject under the authority of science. What’s worse, people on the one hand want to reject modern science in the area of origens and genetics and the like but then want to use a scientific method or tools to get to the proper interpretation of Scripture. I say you can’t have it both ways like some seem to be doing.

  • Steve Sherwood

    Thinker’s & Rob,

    Maybe I’m just simplistic in my thinking, but to me the difficulties in reading Genesis as science appear in the plain reading of the text. Thinker, you mention that Genesis tells us the order of creation. But, doesn’t even a middle school education give one pause as to where light comes from before there is a sun or how plants exist without the process of photosynthesis? Or, turn the page and Genesis 2 provides a significantly different story about creation (at least of humans, if not of everything). As I said, maybe these aren’t really issues, and I’m just too simple to see that, but they seem to me to present questions that Genesis-as-science has a hard time reconciling.

  • Ken

    First off this is a great discussion, thanks Scot for once again helping us to push into discussion that need to be happening in the community of faith so that we might have more well informed discussion outside the community of faith.

    A couple of items I will add, first, context is the most important issue when reading, intrepreting, discussing or teaching from the Scriptures. We must begin by asking the question, how was this text written, read and understood (to the best of our ablity) by those who wrote and read it first? It is hard work to do this but it must be done. To this end John Walton’s book, “The Lost World of Genesis One” which was mentioned earlier is a great starting point.

    Second I would suggest that the what stops discovery is the claim or the fear that to consider anyview that does not hold to a “literal” six day creation understanding fails to hold up the “authority of the Scriptures”. Such a view boarders on being judgemental and creates a tendancy for defensive walls and the need to “perseve the truth” in a manner that limits thoughtful discussion and discovery. It smacks of an earlier period in history when those who held different views on baptism were executed by the church.

    Finally, I would share my own experiance briefly to help illustrate some of the tensions in this area of discussion. Prior to my faith journey, where I discovered the love, grace and forgiveness of King Jesus as a 21year, old I had a facination with Astronomy, the study of the cosmos. In fact, this was one of the key ways the Spirit drew me to the revelation of God. I was facinated with the planets, our Milky Way Galaxy, dark matter and the thought of a continually expanding universe. All of this and much more cause me to continualy ask, how did this all come about, and how could it come about with out intelligence?

    Imagine my suprise than, as a new follower of Christ, sitting in a freshmen class on Apologetics, listening to a Y.E.C. speak about Creationism that some of the science that had aided my search for God was suddenly thrown under the bus. This individual leading the session said that “the stars are not really millions of light years away, God has simply created things to give that appearance”. I challenge him saying, while I had much to learn about the Lord and Scripture the Jesus how revealed himself is not one who I would consider would lead people dilibertly to false conclusions, such a statment seemed incompatiable with the nature and character of God. I also remarked that the science, particularly the math and physics involved in Cosmology is very solid.

    Over the next few years I found many followers of Christ who held similar views to Y.E.C. and I became somewhat discouraged that my understanding of the Cosmos, based upon such strong scientific, and in almost all cases, unbias evidence, was largerly rejected. When I suggested that the universe was between 13-15 billion years old such a view was incompatiable with Scripture and my belief in the Scriptures and even God was questioned. So for nearly 10 years I left this question alone and my intrest in astronomy all but died.

    Eight years ago I purchased a telescope and with my young boys I began to rediscovering the wonder of God’s creative power as we have looked at the moons of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn or wondered at the proximity of the Andromeda galaxy. I have renewed my reading of how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and through the Red Shift, WMAP, Cosmic Radiation and hundreds of other ways this theory has held up. This same theory is what helps Astronomers to pin point the age of the Universe at 13.7 Billion years.

    Creationist claim that such a statement “ignores the recorded history of Genesis.” No, YEC have a “particular” interpertation of “recorded history of Genesis” which rules out, anyview of the creative act of God occuring more than 12-15 thousand years ago. I have learned that anyone who suggests a view contrary to this generally gets branded as one who does not “defend the authority of Scipture” at best and at worse, far more judgmental branding. I am perfectly comfortable and accepting of anyone holding to a YEC position, what I am not comfortable with is when someone, with such a position, suggests that because of my views I do not hold the Scriptures in high regard, or really believe in God.

    In my understanding, Genesis reveals a creation account that is comprehesible to someone living in the ANE world. I further suggest that it was not recorded to debate Evolution, and it certianly is not “scientifically accurate” according to any general scientific study except, said study in it’s own time of writing. Why, because science is dynamic, that is it is changing. Anyone who wants to suggest that Genesis unlocks scientific discoveries has to ask a very crucial question. At what precise moment in history does Genesis unlock scientific discoveries?

    I am a follower of King Jesus, the one who is the supreme revelation of God. I believe the Lord is the maker of Heaven and Earth. I believe that an event, currently called the Big Bang is the best current understanding of the manner in which God brought about all matter. I believe that in using the mind God has grant us with we can study the Universe, form mathimatical equations, study quatum physics, in order to unlock many secrets of this wonderful creation. Newton was convinced that the universe was created with order and laws and that if one applied mathamatical calculations in the study of the universe and its laws that it would reveal truth. Today my walk of faith as a follower of Jesus is deeper and richer, in part, due to cosmology, quantum physics and the general study of astronomy. I encourage anyone desiring to have a greater appreciation of God to spend some time gazing at heavens, or looking at the images of the Hubble Space telescope. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (NIV Zondervan 2011)


  • This is an interesting conversation. I have a couple of questions.

    1. Where do the voices of those who do not approach “the heavens and the earth and all therein” from a Western understanding of science fit into this conversation?

    2. Does this article assume that the Western perspective of science is the only way in which we can process the way in which a divine creator (“God”) created? Is there room in the discussion for those voices who might fall into question 1?

    3. If Scripture cannot be a substitute for scientific explanations, does this mean that we are to understand that other creation narratives are not substitutes for scientific explanations as well?

    4. Can someone give a brief explanation as to whose science we are talking about?

    And a statement: I take issue with point #2. IMO, it sets up a dualistic understanding of God and Scripture that I don’t think can actually be gleaned FROM Scripture. When it states “spiritual things,” I am assuming that is in contrast to “physical things.” Admittedly, I could be doing the classical “Ass u and me” problem. That being said, what in all of creation (or the heavens and the earth), is NOT spiritual?

    Thank you. 🙂

  • phil_style

    @ TH, #41,

    You list 11 examples of where you think the bible makes scientific claims. This is my point, the bible makes no such claims. It’s a matter of literary interpretation.

  • CGC

    Hi Dan,
    I think part of the problem is what do people mean by “science?” Some people think any observation about the natural world is science. So they would even argue that even though the sun standing still is from a human perspective and not a technical scientific reality, that’s science. Or mentioning flowers or animals eating other animals is science. In this sense, I think people are talking past each other. The real problem from my perspective is when people like Hugh Ross and CS folks start “reading in” modern science all over the Scriptures as if that was the intent and purpose of the biblical writer. They do this in an attempt to reconcile Scripture and Science but from my perspective, it not only misses the real points the Scriptures are making (and they are not modern scientific ones) but even biblical scholars sees this kind of proof-texting is problematic at so many levels.

    So if you want to call this “western modern science” that’s fine. I continually find it strange when I read Christian books that try to prove how the Bible supports the second law of thermodynamics or physics or whatever. It’s this kind of science that TE’s are reacting against even if they are drawing too sharp of lines as you possibly suggest between science and the Bible or the physical realm and the spiritual realm (as if these two should be separated or work independently of each other which they should not).

  • I’m not sure why science is only ever trustworthy when it suits us – whether our personal theological concepts or medicine when sick or exploring the good creation (though only exploring it to a certain extent lest we find things that we might not like), etc. Then we tend to mock science if it gets something wrong. But, and correct me if I’m wrong, science has always functioned under the premise that to get things ‘right’, it will take getting things wrong first, so we can rule those out and move toward correct assessments.

    So I am saddened by many evangelicals who disdain science, but only when it doesn’t suit their already set-in-stone paradigm. We are dealing with data and questions today that our fathers and mothers before us were not. I don’t see science as the great meta-narrative by which we define all of life. But good science is good, and science in and of itself is a good discipline.

    I am also baffled by this thought – Why are we, as evangelicals, committed to a kind of hermeneutic that allows ‘progressive’ revelation in Scripture, a development towards the ultimate revelation in Christ. But then when science takes time as well to develop in grasping the in’s and out’s of specific arenas of life, we mock it and say it is not trustworthy. It seems a double standard to me.

  • CGC

    Hi ScottL,
    I could not agree with you more . . .

  • Bev Mitchell

    Re concerns over dualism – the sure defense agains dualism is the Resurrection.

    Great progress can be made in the somewhat fake creation vs science battles if we can learn to begin our thinking about creation with the Resurrection. The perfect blending (if that’s even close to the correct metaphor) of spiritual and material reality in the risen Lord is what happens when God creates without any opposition. The rest of the material cosmos is what happens when the creative will of God is opposed – still good and very good, but not perfect.

    I like to think of “Let there be light!” as God’s declaration of war and “It is finished!” as his declaration if victory. The Resurrection, of course, is the clear evidence of that victory and also the foreshadowing of the complete victory to come. How the entire cosmos is to become “like the risen Christ” is beyond us, mechanistically. But, some perfect unity of spiritual and material realities seems to be the way to see it metaphysically.

  • How can Genesis 1 be a refutation of “polytheism” when the Elohim speak of “Let us….”?

  • Isaac

    Those that have been classified as parent isotopes could turn up to be daughter as a result of radioactive decay. Could any substance be available for the creation of parent isotopes? If scientists could not comment it, it might point to the fact of God’s direct creation of materials that are meant for parent isotopes instead of theistic evolution.