Can Evangelicals Find Agreement on Creation and Evolution? No.

Can Evangelicals Find Agreement on Creation and Evolution? No. January 8, 2019

Belief in young earth creationism was incredibly important in my family of origin. In fact, when I left home and began to form my own beliefs independent from those of my parents, it was this issue that proved the first (and perhaps most lasting) sticking point. This hasn’t changed with time. On a recent visit home, I attended a service at the church I grew up attending (a large, nondenominational midwestern church); an announcer advertised a young earth creationist Sunday school class that would provide attendee’s with evidence of ties between evolution and godless secularism.

Articles that touch on young earth creationism naturally pique my interest. A recent Christianity Today article by Todd Wilson titled Ten Theses on Creation and Evolution That (Most) Evangelicals Can Support was no exception. As a young pastor, Wilson writes, many of his parishioners were upset when they learned that he “held to a version of evolutionary creation.” To handle this problem, his church developed “ten theses on creation and evolution that we believe (most) evangelicals can (mostly) affirm.”

It was important for us to arrive at a position on creation and evolution that was in keeping with that faithful Christian saying, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Wilson’s goal, it seems, was to find common ground—area where people could agree to disagree. The ten theses he helped develop could, he hoped, be affirmed and supported by both those who believe the earth was created six thousand years ago and those who believe in theistic evolution.

However, upon review, Wilson’s theses actually exclude a lot of people. I’ll explain.

My parents followed a young earth creationist ministry called Answers in Genesis, led by prominent creation evangelist Ken Ham. Growing up reading their literature, the message I received was that one had to believe in young earth creationism to be a real Christian. The issue wasn’t treated as something one could agree to disagree on—if you weren’t a young earth creationist, you were in theological danger and needed correcting. This all came to mind as I puzzled over what Wilson was trying to do.

Toward the end of Wilson’s list comes this item:

8. The Christian faith is compatible with different scientific theories of origins, from young-earth creationism to evolutionary creationism…

Curious for an official line from Answers in Genesis on this issue—because this organization loomed so big in my childhood—I did a quick google search and found this FAQ on Answers in Genesis’ website:

Yes, one can be a Christian and an evolutionist, but such a position is both scientifically and biblically untenable. The Lord Jesus took a literal view of Genesis. The theory of evolution is dishonouring to God as Creator, and its teaching leads to a disastrous secularizing of society.

The entire point of Answers in Genesis’ ministry is to convince Christians that they have to be young earth creationists—and Answers in Genesis has a long reach in evangelicalism. Wilson, my gut says, is bonkers if he thinks he can get Answers in Genesis followers like my parents on board with agreeing to disagree.

As I thought about it, I realized that Wilson’s theses are as much about drawing lines as they are about finding common ground. Wilson has presumably had at least some success in his project of finding common ground on this issue, at least in his own church, and that’s because young earth creationists who drew a hard line on the issue—who disagree that the Christian faith is compatible with multiple views—are forced to either change their views or leave his church. They’re outside the circle he is drawing.

There are other items on Wilson’s list that also draw lines, only on the other side:

5. Adam and Eve were real persons in a real past, and the fall was a real event with real and devastating consequences for the entire human race.

Wilson explains this item as follows:

This is likely to be a sticking point for some. An increasing number of evangelical evolutionary creationists are giving up belief in Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past. The genetic evidence, at least as we now understand it, makes belief in an original human pair doubtful if not impossible.

I suspect in 20 years’ time, support for Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past will be a minority view even within evangelicalism. Should this come to pass, I remain confident that the Christian faith will survive, even though this will require some reconfiguration of our deepest convictions.

That being said, I personally don’t find the genetic evidence compelling enough to jettison belief in a real Adam and Eve in a real past. I admit that the evidence is mounting and at this stage looks (to my untrained eye) impressive. But two scriptural convictions keep me tethered to the historic Christian conviction about the original human pair. The first is the testimony of Scripture, especially Adam’s presence in genealogies (Gen. 5; Luke 1) and in Paul’s Adam-Christ typology in Romans 5. Even more compelling is the idea that the Christian view of salvation appears to hinge on the doctrine of original sin and the fall as an event, which in turn requires a real person to have transgressed and thus plunged humanity into a state of sin from which it needs redemption.

It may be the case that faithful Christians will develop biblically legitimate and theologically sensible ways of explaining the gospel apart from a real Adam and Eve. But until that point, the better part of wisdom is maintaining a spirit of engaged conversation on this issue.

To a certain extent, Wilson talks out of both sides of his mouth here. He talks about “maintaining a spirit of engaged conversation on this issue” and acknowledges that “an increasing number of evangelical evolutionary creationists are giving up belief in Adam and Eve as real persons,” but he also includes belief in a literal Adam and Eve his list of theses outlining out what he sees as legitimate common ground.

In other words, he acknowledges that there are Christians who don’t think Adam and Eve were real people, but he draws them out of his circle.

Wilson is aware that the scientific evidence is against his position—and it’s not just a little bit of evidence. It’s a lot of evidence. You can’t get an entire population from breeding only two individuals without having significant problems. And, genetically, we would be able to tell if our entire population was the result of breeding only two individuals. The evidence suggests, instead, that we descend from a population that was never smaller than 10,000 individuals.

Wilson knows the science on genetics—he has just decided that it doesn’t matter, because Adam and Eve as real people is a point he won’t cede. This feels very familiar. In his article, Wilson talks a good deal about God having “two books”—the Bible and nature. But when the evidence in nature contradicts a theological point he has deemed essential, he rejects the scientific evidence. Young earth creationists do the same; they simply differ in which theological points they deem essential.

(As a quick side note, “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosome Adam” may come to mind here for some.  While these individuals are common ancestors, however, they did not live at the same time, and they were alive simultaneously with thousands of other early humans. They are only common ancestors in the way that 0.5% of the world’s population are believed to be descendants of Ghengis Kahn.)

I spent some time as a theistic evolutionist, during my own theological journey. I knew the genetic evidence too, and didn’t think belief in a literal Adam and Eve was tenable. So I didn’t believe in one. I held those stories as myth, like the first chapter of Genesis. The story, I argued, held meaning—it created an allegory of mankind’s moral failings—but was not historical in nature.

I would have been outside of Wilson’s circle.

Wilson’s is a middle circle, including young earth creationists who aren’t too dogmatic—those who affirm that multiple views are valid—and theistic evolutionists who don’t go too far afield (as defined by Wilson).

While it’s impossible to say for sure, his circle may actually exclude more people—young earth creationists like my parents and theistic evolutionists like I was—than it includes. Curious about Wilson’s reception, given this reality, I had a look at his article’s facebook comments, only to find some people arguing that Wilson is wrong because only a literal young earth creation understanding is valid, and others arguing that Wilson is wrong because the story of Adam and Eve was only allegory.

So much for finding agreement.

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