Evangelicals and Evolution: expecting from the Bible what it’s not set up to deliver?

Evangelicals and Evolution: expecting from the Bible what it’s not set up to deliver? July 26, 2013

Christians have been butting heads with evolution since the 19th century. A lot is at stake.

If evolution is right about how humans came to be, then the biblical story of Adam and Eve–which has been answered the question of human origins for almost 2000 years–isn’t.

Those who believe that God himself is in some meaningful sense responsible for what’s in the Bible have a problem to address. Once you open the door to the possibility that God’s version of human origins isn’t what actually happened–well, the dominoes start unraveling down the slippery slope. The next step is uncertainty, chaos, and despair about one’s personal faith.

That, more or less, is the evangelical and fundamentalist log flume of fear, and I have seen it played out again and again.

In recent years, the matter has gotten far worse. Popular figures like Richard Dawkins have done an in-your-face-break-the-backboard-slam-dunk over the heads of defenders of the biblical story. They’ve taken great delight in making sure Main Street knows evolution is true, and therefore the Bible is “God’s big book of bad ideas” (Bill Maher) and Christians are morons for taking it seriously. Evangelicals have been on high alert damage control mode.

Then you have the mapping of the human genome. It’s a done deal: humans and primates are 90-something percent related genetically. The best explanation for it, geneticists tell us, is the theory of evolution.

And it doesn’t help things that an evangelical, Francis Collins, was the one who pointed all this out, got the Presidential Medal of Honor for it, and talked about it (twice) on “The Colbert Report.”

If that wasn’t enough, evolution is being used nowadays to explain all sorts of things about us humans — including why we believe in God. If God is a product of evolution, like bipedalism and tool making, well, the jig’s up for Christians of any stripe.

Evolution is a threat, and many evangelicals are fighting to keep Adam in the family photo album. But in their rush to save Christianity, some evangelicals have been guilty of all sorts of strained, idiosyncratic or obscurantist tactics: massaging or distorting the data, manipulating the legal system, scaring their constituencies and strong-arming those of their own camp who raise questions.

These sorts of tactics get a lot of press, but behind them is a deeper problem — a problem that gets close to the heart of evangelicalism itself and hampers any true dialogue.

It has to do with what expectations about what the Bible can deliver.

Evangelicals look to the Bible to settle important questions of faith. So, faced with a potentially faith-crushing idea like evolution, evangelicals naturally ask right off the bat, “What does the Bible say about that?” And then informed by “what the Bible says,” they are ready to make a “biblical” judgment.

This is fine in principle, but in the evolution debate this mindset is a problem: It assumes that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins.” It isn’t.

As long as that thinking is maintained, the conflict between the Bible and evolution is guaranteed.

Since the 19th century, through scads of archaeological discoveries from the ancient world of the Bible, biblical scholars have gotten a pretty good handle on what ancient creation stories were designed to do.

Ancient peoples assumed that somewhere in the distant past, near the beginning of time, the gods made the first humans from scratch — an understandable conclusion to draw. They wrote stories about “the beginning,” however, not to lecture their people on the abstract question “Where do humans come from?” They were storytellers, drawing on cultural traditions, writing about the religious — and often political — beliefs of the people of their own time.

Their creation stories were like a warm-up to get to the main event: them. Their stories were all about who they were, where they came from, what their gods thought of them and, therefore, what made them better than other peoples.

Likewise, Israel’s story was written to say something about their place in the world and the God they worshiped. To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive, quasi-scientific, account of human origins is an absurd logic.

To read the story of Adam and Eve as if it were set up to explain human origins is simply wrongheaded. .

Rather than focusing on how to protect the Bible against the attacks of evolution, the bigger and better challenge before us is to reorient our expectations of what the story of Adam and Eve is actually prepared to deliver.

This post is a revised version of what I posted on the Huffington Post, Jan. 23, 2012, entitled “Once More, With Feeling: Adam, Evolution and Evangelicals.” 

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  • Yuri

    Is your proposal the only way you can see to salvage the creation accounts for Christians? What if, after examining the evidence, we decide that the Adam and Eve story really is, among other things, about human origins?

    • Taylor Weaver

      The problem is that there has already been substantial examination of these origin stories. See John Walton, for instance. He has done magnificent work on the subject of creation myths and the purpose of the early portions of Genesis as a genre of creation myth. Not to mention the subtleties of the orientation of such myths, namely that the ancients were more concerned about creation as describing functionality rather than the materiality of a thing.

      • Yuri

        Walton’s work is abysmally bad (see Ron Hendel’s review in JSS 58 (1) [2013]). What if it turns out the ancients were really interested in how humans were created? Tzvi Abusch’s work on the view of human nature embedded in the Mesopotamian creation account (see, for instance, his article “Ghost and God” in Self, Soul, and Body in Religious Experience) certainly suggests that creation accounts could be deeply interested in the process and materials of human creation. How damaging would it be to evangelicalism if this turned out to be the case for the biblical accounts as well?

        • Assuming that the ‘abysmally bad’ qualifier applies to Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, would you be willing to excerpt a few of the bits about why it’s so bad? Specifics would be most helpful. Let us remember that humans are neither infallible, nor usually 100% wrong.

          • Yuri

            Read the review I cited. Walton’s philology is transparently incompetent. I don’t want to hijack this thread, but if you must have specifics, consider his treatment of the raqia’ in Gen 1 as Ancient Cosmology (155-61). Major blunders in his novel idea that this refers to the space between the solid sky and the solid ground rather than the solid sky itself, as usually held, include the claim that 1) raqia’ can’t mean solid sky because shechaqim refers to the solid sky elsewhere (159), and 2) that the birds, sun, and moon are IN the raqia’ (157, emphasis his). The first is linguistic poppycock; he second is a simple misreading of the text of Gen 1:17, 20, which distinguishes the position of luminaries as IN the raqia’ vs. the birds as flying UP AGAINST the raqia’. These are two examples are characteristic of his methodology in the book and represent what I mean by ‘abysmally bad.’

          • Are you able to provide URLs to accessible version(s) of what you’ve cited? I echo Taylor’s comment, above. Note that I have no special attachment to Walton; I would love more-rigorous analysis!

          • Yuri

            Sorry, I can’t. They should be available at any university library. I was able to access JSS electronically through my library’s online catalogue. The notes I’ve given in response to you and Bev are about all I’m willing to give regarding Walton in this context. To give more would involve a long list of philological problems, why they are problematic, and how their failure undermines his thesis. This is something I’d be happy to do (I happen to have such a list), but, again, not in this context.

          • Roger that. It’s a shame; this way of setting things up excludes laymen who love to investigate this stuff, but don’t necessarily have access to a university and also don’t have unlimited funds.

            Do you think the best analysis indicates either way, at this point? That is, for or against the ancient Hebrews talking about the specific mechanics of creation. (E.g. did they intend Genesis 1-3 to be a science textbook?)

        • Taylor Weaver

          Unfortunately, I can find neither Hendel’s review, nor Abusch’s article in a format that is readily available. One requires a subscription, the other I could not find using my university’s online journal search. Either way, atual substance would be beneficial, rather than distinguishing Walton’s work as “abysmally bad.” I am sure many would be surprised to learn his work is that horrible.

        • Bev Mitchell

          I agree with labreuer. Give some specifics re where you think Walton is seriously off the track. His idea of creation as primarily even only concerned with function/purpose is speculative, but just with respect to the primarily and only part (and I may be reading those into what he writes). Creation accounts certainly strongly pertain to function and purpose.

          On another note, do you see what you are doing with constructions like?
          “certainly suggests that creation accounts could be deeply interested in the process and materials of human creation. How damaging would it be to evangelicalism if this turned out to be the case for the biblical accounts as well?

          A reader does not even have to know the subject under discussion to not give the writer serious attention. I’m not being mean here, just hoping you will learn to make your case more persuasively. Even if I ultimately disagree with someone, I’d like to be more sure of what ideas, conclusions I am disagreeing with.

          • Yuri

            I honestly don’t understand your objection to my reference to Abusch. Flesh out what the problem is there, if you’d like.

            Also, before you posted, I had already provided below some specific examples of Walton’s incompetence. Fleshing that out a bit more, the claim that the creations accounts are interested in function and purpose is not controversial. Controversial is the repeated claim that what is created are “functions, not objects (p. 120, Gen 1 as Ancient Cosmology). This stronger claim is consistently based on arguments that fail on the most basic linguistic level.

          • Bev Mitchell

            The fact that one author “certainly suggests” a certain thing does not link very strongly to “if this turned out to be the case”. You are building up a very iffy structure. You seem, here and earlier, to wonder about the state of evangelicalism should it turn out that the Genesis accounts are, in fact, a description of how creation took place (and, presumably) evolution turns out to be wrong. (Assuming I’m following your not fully articulated concerns). Well, how much does evangelicalism depend on our interpretation of Genesis? Will the gospel suffer if we cast about a bit in what is an admittedly hard to interpret text, considering its age and context that we are just beginning to understand better? Isn’t evangelicalism based on much clearer parts of God’s revelations to humanity – specifically the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, all brought to our spirit’s attention by the Holy Spirit?

            Have you read Alister McGrath’s “A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism”? He bases the entire thing on the uniqueness of Jesus and mentions Genesis little if at all. A quote from his chapter on Evangelicalism and Postmodernism may highlight the problem you seem to concerned about. “…….. evangelicalism has show itself to be vulnerable to a form of rationalism. Evangelism, on the basis of an Enlightenment world view, is about persuading people of the truth of the gospel – with that crucial word ‘truth’ being understood in a strongly rational manner as ‘propositional correctness’.

          • Yuri

            Ah. I see. I needn’t have hedged with “certainly suggests”. Abusch’s analysis, if correct, SHOWS that ANE creations accounts can be deeply interested in the process and materials of human creation. I want to merely raise the possibility that the same is the case for either or both of the Genesis creation accounts. If this is the case, and again, I am merely raising the possibility, not arguing the point, I’m wondering how these accounts can be salvaged for evangelical christians.

            Enns suggests that the way out of the conundrum presented by evolution is to recognize that the Gen creation accounts are not really about human origins. Enns may be right or wrong about the nature of these Gen creation accounts. I’m merely asking whether the salvaging of the Gen creation accounts depends on him being right.

        • WonkishGuy

          I’m not sure I’d call it “abysmally bad”.

          Are there weaknesses that many reviewers have pointed out, such as that functional creation presupposes material creation (for something to have a function, it must first have material existence)? Sure. Be I don’t see reviewers dismissing it as a shoddy piece of scholarship as “abysmally bad” would suggest they should. Rather, they welcome it as an interesting contribution but note that there are problems and that some things might be better developped.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Well said Pete. Reorientation of expectations is certainly in order. Asking the wrong questions of any source or complex system is the sure way to utter frustration, not to mention great error.

    You say about the ancients: “They wrote stories about “the beginning,” however, not to lecture their people on the abstract question “Where do humans come from?” They were storytellers, drawing on cultural traditions, writing about the religious — and often political — beliefs of the people of their own time.” Of course it’s exactly the same with native American people. I wonder if it would help to remind folk of this. Creation myths of ANE folk and Inuit people, tribes from the Great Plains, Mayans, Aztecs, Zapotecs, Inca, Mapuche etc. share lots of similarities.

    So with ancient Israel. Though they had the help of YHWH in understanding and writing their story, the impulse, style, basic human personality were all that of their time and place, and it remains a story to describe themselves and their relation to the divine. It’s not a scientific statement or an historical report (as we understand reporting of events).

  • BrotherRog

    As a progressive Christian, I’m dismayed that evolution is still even considered to be controversial to anyone in 2013. Christian faith and the insights of contemporary science aren’t mutually exclusive or incompatible. The Bible shares about who and Whose we are and provides meaning and purpose to our lives. Science shares about how we got here. Both are true.

    Roger Wolsey, author, “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

    • Bev Mitchell

      It is depressing but thankfully the blinkered view is not spread completely among orthodox believers. As for books with catchy titles, you will also enjoy “Nonsense on Stilts” by Massimo Pigliucci. Just Google ‘nonsense on stilts pdf’ for a sample from the National Center for Science Education.

      P.S. The entire book appears to be free on line, but at least the chapter put up by NCSE is by permission and is a critique of Intelligent Design Theory.

  • David K. Ward

    Where to begin? The Term Evangelical is misused to the point of insanity. You can be “Evangelical” and “Progressive.” But you cannot be “Conservative” & “Progressive.” There are those that actually listen to words and their meanings. I am very Progressive myself, but i am far more weary of the “Stagnant Religious Conservatives.” I find the “Religious” in this country scary on many levels, no matter what they profess. Religions are of man, not of God. I firmly believe in God and his creation, the universe and the world. i am also educated enough to be able to know that the next person to write a “Proof” of Evolution will be the first. Creationism is handicapped by the “Literalists” that then add “Inerrancy” to whatever “Translation” they profess at the moment.

    My problem, the problem of the new non-Religious Christian (the Relationship-Christian, The Purpose Driven Christian maybe) is that we will be living down the “Religious” Pharisaical Christians for decades if not longer. I have no use for them nor use for talking about them. I am highly encouraged by the growth and freedom that is arriving in the USA Christian movement that is showing that we do profoundly care about the guy next door. The Dogma must get removed from both sides now tho. The Secular Progressives say there is no God. I know they are wrong. If there isnt a God, wow, where will man inevitably go? Our history is not kind to Man left to our own devices.

  • John Stamps

    Being in the grip of an idée fixe like biblical inerrancy creates bad theology. When I consider the Creation versus Evolution or the Faith versus Science rat holes, I feel like I’m shouting at Jamie Lee Curtis in a horror movie, “Don’t open that door! Don’t do it!” But opening the door we did, for all kinds of historical reasons that weren’t inevitable. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” Misguided over-reaction to Copernicus, Galileo, or Darwin was not inevitable then, nor is it inevitable now. If history teaches us anything, we see compelling historical alternatives, the road not taken. B.B. Warfield was a perfectly happy inerrantist–his cheerful portrait in the lounge at PTS always amused me–but he accepted Darwin. Maybe 21st century evangelicals could learn a lesson from Warfield. 19th century American Evangelicals didn’t need to be in thrall to 19th century empiricism (that is, some form of Scottish Common Sense Realism or Baconian Inductivism). They could have been more sympathetic to the Transcendentalists. Karl Barth and Soren Kierkegaard need not have offended Francis Schaeffer. Even a small dose of Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard, or Simone Weil could have mentored us in strategies of intellectual resistance. Lest it seem like I’m bashing Evangelicals, trust me, we Eastern Orthodox have plenty of kooky people inflamed by nutty intellectual passions. There is such a thing as patristic fundamentalism. Exorcisms all around would be a good start!

    • It strikes me that Jesus commands a kind of empiricism:

      “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

      I wonder if some hate empiricism because it could be used to expose their hypocrisy, or at least their unwillingness to question what they accept as ‘true’.

  • Hey Pete, would you be willing to dive into the Augustinian version of the Fall, compared to the Irenaean version? If anything, before the theory evolution there was ‘some debate’ as to which was more accurate. Although, a friend I talked to said it is hard to make the Augustinian version mesh with Hebrews 2:10:

    For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

    Made perfect? But wasn’t Jesus born absolutely and completely and utterly perfect? Hmmm, what if we transform our idea of perfection from a finite one to an infinite one, so that there are always higher levels of perfection to which we can attain? If this is true, then there is no such thing as a ‘perfect human’—other than Jesus, of course. This means Adam and Eve could not have been morally perfect. That… opens some theological doors that have been long-shut in many theological domains, does it not?

    • NateW

      I tend to think of “perfection” not as an objective moral state, but as a way of being that one chooses (or doesn’t) moment by moment. To be “perfect” is to be as humans are meant to be, as revealed by Jesus Christ. We are most fully human, most complete, most ALIVE when we love others so deeply and so actively that we are crucified for it by those who depend on the alienation of others for their own sense of status, value, and identity. In this light then, Jesus is said to have always been morally upright, but he had not yet perfectly revealed the true nature of God until he was crucified. God is not primarily a moral God, but a god who has died in love for the “other” for all eternity.

      • I think you’re still skirting the issue I tried to raise: if we don’t think about perfection correctly, then Hebrews 2:10 indicates that at a definite point in time, Jesus was not perfect.

        Don’t get me wrong; I think you have some good points. Might you be able to… ‘formalize’ them, a bit more? It may be that we’re actually saying the same thing. 🙂

        • NateW

          We very well could be. : ) I was essentially trying to say that “perfection” is a matter of fitness or adequacy for a given role, not an objective state of being free from any conceivable limitations. A spoon can be perfect even though it fails miserably to cut my steak. If it has been made perfect for its intended function it can’t become more perfect, and it can’t be less perfect, but it will not realize or fully live up to its perfection so long as it is trying to cut steak instead of spoon soup. Jesus wasn’t IMPERFECT prior to his suffering of the cross, but until the moment that he gave his own life the manifestation of the image of God in him could not be said to be complete.

          Does that make more sense?

          • I think so, and I think you’ve helped isolate the disagreement. You still have an end state of ‘complete’. Once one is ‘complete’, there is no further to go. I’m not sure this is good theology. It may be good only when it comes to the Cross. In all other circumstances, I suggest that the following,

            And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

            indicates that we become ‘ever more perfect’. Or to use your word, we approach completion. I’m not sure we ever get there. For example, it could be that in heaven, it just doesn’t hurt (other than perhaps stubbing a toe) to “be transformed… from one degree of glory to another”.

            Does this make sense? Remember, my point was to question whether we could call Adam and Eve ‘perfect’ before the Fall. I would ask the same question with your word: can we call Adam and Eve ‘complete’ before the Fall? I think the best answer is no. By answering “no”, I think I’m disagreeing violently with Augustine!

          • NateW

            Ok, well, I actually think we sort of agree. I don’t think that Adam and Eve were perfect before the fall. They were “good” (as is every created human) that is, perfectly made to perform their given role, but because of their shame they failed to take hold of their full potential.

            As for us, I wouldn’t say that it’s. matter of becoming more perfect, as if there were gradations of completeness, but that it is a matter of becoming more and more consistently able to live as we were created to live. It is a moment by moment thing, I think, where we are only as perfect as the decision we are making right now.

            I think that in union with the Spirit we CAN be perfect, but this is not a status achieved but a way living. It is never past nor future, but always available in the present. It is not something we can hang our hat on nor is it a goal that we must anxiously pursue, rather it is a WAY that is always available to us in every moment. It is an eternal choosing to believe the word of god in the present and act in accord with it. I can be perfect on moment, and fail to be so in he next when I fail to fully believe that in God’s eyes I am and have always been perfect.

          • Heh, I think we just don’t want to use the same words to talk about very similar concepts. 🙂 Perhaps there is use in doing a study of James 1:4 (ESV)’s “perfect and complete”, and James 3:2 (ESV)’s “a perfect man”. The ‘perfect’ in James 1:4 (ESV) is teleios (5046), the same word used in “So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (!) It’s also the ‘perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 13:10! There is something interesting here, I think.

            Note that another word to throw into the mix is ‘mature’. Perhaps we can reach accord with it: while in some sense there exists a state of ‘maturity’, it is actually possible to mature more and more and more, with no finite amount of ‘perfect maturity’, heh. 🙂 In other words, just as God is unfathomable—and yet he commands us to keep on fathoming him, deeper and deeper—we can become more and more mature, throughout eternity. Make sense?

          • NateW

            Yeah, agree totally that most theological disagreements are actually a matter being unwilling to look at that dim mirror from the same angle as the other.

            In Philippians 3 Paul actually uses the same word for “perfect” and “mature” and also equates both of these with sharing in the sufferings and death of Christ, becoming “like Him.” Interestingly he speaks of this as something both describing Christ followers in the present AND as something that he has not obtained but strives after. To have faith in Christ is to know that in Him I am perfect, but when this is truly known and embraced then the natural result is the desire to make it our own.

  • Gary

    I really found interest in this context, “If that wasn’t enough, evolution is being used nowadays to explain all sorts of things about us humans — including why we believe in God. If God is a product of evolution, like bipedalism and tool making, well, the jig’s up for Christians of any stripe.”

    I’ve read a fair bit in the space.

    One thing that seems respect worthy of the camp is that they haven’t been as guilty “of strained, idiosyncratic or obscurantist tactics: massaging or distorting the data, manipulating the legal system, scaring their constituencies and strong-arming those of their own camp who raise questions.”

    While I can’t always figure out the truth of this or that as a humble layman, I do have intuitions that those who use the techniques of force or manipulation, it’s because they lack sufficient argument, patience, trust, or character.

    Anyhow, I’ve yet to read too much Evangelical dialogue with a number of things. The Evangelical dialogue with analytical philosophy and its older contexts is very established. It seems less so with the more contemporary analytical philosophers, with the cognitive sciences, and with continental philosophy as well. Evolutionary thought seems more thoughtfully engaged with those other schools as well. If theology is the queen of sciences, she needs to be in meaningful, content-rich dialogue with her subjects.

    And its far too late to be a despot of a queen of the sciences. It’s time to do something, if anything, more in the spirit of a Chrsitus Victor and Lamb of God. Otherwise, it may well be that instead of Christianity, Mercy wins in the end.

  • TJ

    “dominoes start unraveling down the slippery slope” that’s kind of a metaphor train wreck….

  • (emphasis mine)

    If that wasn’t enough, evolution is being used nowadays to explain all sorts of things about us humans — including why we believe in God. If God is a product of evolution, like bipedalism and tool making, well, the jig’s up for Christians of any stripe.

    One hilarious thing about this is that it could all be true, except for the italicized bit. Is it that hard to believe that God could use evolution to draw us to him?

  • James

    I think you are playing a bit with us in this post–setting us up to disagree. For example: It assumes that the Adam and Eve story is about “human origins.” It isn’t. I think we all know, it is. In fact there are two such stories at the very beginning of the Bible to take into account. Whatever else they are, teach, or portray, they are stories about human origins. What do they mean, is the burning question to pose.

  • Karl Pietrowski

    If evolution is true, the creation myth is false. If that is false, it means that Adam and Eve never existed. If Eve didn’t exist, she never ate the forbidden apple which caused “original sin”. No original sin = no logical reason that Jesus claims to have died for these “sins”.
    Well, newsflash*** Evolution is a fact. It’s a scientifically demonstrated fact. How are poeple going to deny something that produces real-life applications? The only reason why individuals deny it is because of their religious convictions; it kills thir hypothesis. You can’t even call creationism a theory because its unfalsifiable. It can not be tested, or demonstrated. It’s a matter of faith/opinion. Whether 9 or 99% of people believe in evolution is irrelevant … truth is NOT a democracy.

    • ctrace

      What operative science – lab work – is done based on Darwinian theory other than the very non-controversial fact of micro evolution (dog breeding at ever smaller levels)? By the way, are you at all familiar with recent scientific findings regarding the structure and working of cells? Science has long surpassed the Darwinian belief that cells are a mere blob of ectoplasm. We’re dealing with information (code) and nano technology that is on the face of it miraculous. Certainly not things that can create themselves or evolve mechanically.

    • ctrace

      We routinely use the phrase the miracle of life. Because we, deep down, know that life itself is a miracle. That creation itself is a miracle. And the more the western scientific enterprise, so cradled and motivated by the Christian faith and Christian culture and civilization, delves down into the workings of this miracle of life the more miraculous it seems to us.

    • Timothy Smith

      Evolution is not fact- it is theory that is not provable. That inability is what keeps it in the realm of the theoretical. There is certainly evidence for evolution, but also evidence for the existence of God. You cannot prove God does not exist just as it cannot be proved that He does exist. Both beliefs require a certain amount of faith. The whole evolutionary model starts with the premise that there is no God.

      • Ann Gingrow Corbett

        “When used in non-scientific context, the word “theory” implies that something is unproven or speculative. As used in science, however, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena.”


        • ctrace

          Tell the fossil record that Darwinian theory has been confirmed. News to it.

          • Ann Gingrow Corbett

            From the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:

            “Although there is no scientific controversy about the fact that evolution occurs, our understanding of the details progresses as scientists continue to learn more from combined geological, morphological, and molecular data. Continued research has filled in many of the earlier gaps in the explanation of evolution; for example, many of the gaps in the fossil record have now been filled in by new discoveries. Today’s rapidly increasing understanding of
            molecular biology and genetics also now provides a much more complete understanding of the evolutionary process. ”


          • ctrace

            The devil’s in the details.

          • Timothy Smith

            What fossil record? Where are the bones linking primates to humans? It is fact to you because you start with the presupposition that there is no god. BTW- starting with any presupposition is anti-scientific.

          • Ann Gingrow Corbett

            There’s plenty of information at this site.


      • Dean

        Are we still using that “evolution is just a theory” argument? Did you take high school science? Gravity is also just a theory. When Christians say things like this it really embarrasses me. When you get a PhD in biology Tim, come back and post something about evolution and then maybe someone will take you seriously. It baffles me why fundamentalists think they can go to Answers in Genesis, read a couple articles and then feel comfortable about opining about how an entire field of scientific study is completely wrong. No one would have the audacity to do the same with any other subject, be it quantum physics, heart surgery or how to fix your car. I don’t understand where this sense of overconfidence comes from but if you don’t see how misplaced it is then I can’t help but wonder what kind of egomaniac you might be.

        If you are serous about disproving evolution, then man up, go get some PhDs, do some real research and then enter the fray and duke it out with the big boys. Otherwise, why do you think anyone should take you seriously? In what other area of science do we give any credence to people who say things that are contrary to 100 years of scientific research, can you think of one?

    • EarBucket

      To believe in sin, I just have to look around at the other monkeys I’m sharing this planet with–and myself. Humanity is a screwed-up, selfish, violent, short-sighted little species, and you can believe that without thinking it’s because somebody ate a magic apple six thousand years ago.

      • Noah Smith

        Sure but then it would be God who created Humanity to be a screwed up, selfish, violent, short-sighted species.

        • EarBucket

          Not at all. He created us to love, to care for his creation, to be his image-bearers. But when we follow false gods (whether Violence, or Money, or Nation, or whatever) we’re turned away from the path we should follow and into sin. And every single one of us does that, every day. We’re all Adam and Eve.

          • Noah Smith

            But it is evolution which has gifted humanity with violence, short sightedness, selfishness etc. These traits aren’t cultural but can be amplified by culture. If God wanted humanity to be loving caretakers of his creation then he would’ve done better to have used sheep as a common ancestor rather than primates (or maybe not use the mechanism of evolution at all).

          • Dean

            “Sure but then it would be God who created Humanity to be a screwed up, selfish, violent, short-sighted species.”

            Noah, here’s the problem, if you think “Original Sin” gets God off the hook for all the evil in this world then you haven’t really thought about either the Adam and Eve story of theodicy very much at all. I think that’s fundamentally the problem with this line of thinking. Furthermore, if you’re a Calvinist, then that’s exactly what he did. Not even Open Theism can account for attributing Adam and Eve’s guilt to the rest of humanity and even creation. The whole “federal headship” doctrine wreaks of “Christian logic”, which typically isn’t logic at all, it’s sophism.

            I wish people would just admit when something sounds like total BS, just because Christians have believed something for hundreds of years doesn’t make it true. Just because Augustine said it was true, doesn’t make it true. Most pastors will preach things to their congregations week after week without giving anything they say a second thought. The willful ignorance of the entire American Evangelical cultural edifice saddens me to no end.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “Not even Open Theism can account for attributing Adam and Eve’s guilt to the rest of humanity and even creation.”

            I may be misunderstanding what you wrote, but do you think most Open Theists believe in Original Sin? I would guess not . . but I have no study backing that up.

          • Dean

            I just meant that I don’t think Open Theism, which in my opinion is probably the best attempt to deal with the problem of theodicy, can’t really fully account of Original Sin either. In my opinion, there’s not a real satisfactory mechanism for explaining why the world is broken to the extent that we see it is. To say that the Holocaust or tsunamis happen because a woman ate the fruit of a tree (meaning, to link those two events with some sort of proximate causal connection) is really difficult for me to make any sense of. People can come up with whatever theories they like, but they are rarely even remotely satisfying on any level in my opinion, or for anyone, if they they are honest enough. I think the only conclusion I can come up with is the Bible simply does not give us an explanation as to why there is evil in this world.

          • Noah Smith

            Dean, I’m an atheist. If you accept theistic evolution then it would seem to me that you’d have accept that God created humans to be violent, impulsive, selfish etc, etc

  • Tony Wichowski

    Good article but i am interested in reading what you think the Adam and eve story is all about and why it was not meant as an origins story.

  • John Stamps

    Let us stipulate that Genesis is evidence that the ancient Jews, like the Babylonians and the Egyptians, were concerned about human origins and the origins of the cosmos. Even so, Genesis answers very different questions than the Greeks and Greek science tried to answer. The Greeks developed an interest in theoretical explanation unprecedented by other ancient cultures. Egyptians used rough-and-ready geometrical methods to solve practical problems like measuring right angles after the Nile floods or for building the pyramids. But it took Thales to use abstract reasoning to measure the height of the pyramids! The Egyptians said the Greeks were like children–They were constantly asking, “Why? Why? Why?” (And so do we!) The Bible also asks why questions, but they are exceedingly practical: Why do the righteous suffer and why do sinners flourish? But the Greeks turned why questions into a theoretical discipline looking for ultimate natural explanations. The lingering problem we have in the 21st century is we’re reading the Bible to answer questions it isn’t interested in asking. If we have ears to hear, God speaks to us in Scripture. Genesis is existentially profound. Good Lord, I am Adam and Adam is me. I don’t begin to understand myself or my world without some functional doctrine of Original Sin. Genesis helps me make sense of Cormac McCarthy. But it doesn’t make sense to use Genesis to answer the questions Thales asked, much less the questions that Darwin asked.

    • James

      I like this response.

  • mark

    But in their rush to save Christianity, some evangelicals have been guilty of all sorts of strained, idiosyncratic or obscurantist tactics:

    I dunno. I never thought evangelicals were in any rush to save Christianity. I always thought their thing was to save Evangelicalism–two different things. I’ve been a Christian all my life and I’ve never seen what Evangelicalism has in common with Christianity except a few words, like, “Bible,” “Christ,” “Paul,” etc. C’mon! Time to move on: 1 Corinthians 13:11.

    • alan

      then please define your ‘Christianity’ without any theology that also happens to be Evangelical?

  • Mark

    “If God is a product of evolution, like bipedalism and tool making, well, the jig’s up for Christians of any stripe.” Not necessarily. Just because people came to believe in God THROUGH the process of evolution says nothing about the truth of this belief. If God is MERELY a product of evolution, then this is a different story altogether.

  • Norman

    I would like to see Pete spend more time delving into the
    idea that Genesis Adam and Eve represents a Jewish exilic perspective of Israel’s
    theological woes. The idea that Adam and
    Eve are metaphorical Theological implementations has much more traction then inferring
    their correlation with ANE origin stories as the basis of their original
    purpose. When you examine them from a
    theological perspective they fit into an extensive literary field that is a common
    approach during 2nd Temple period. The author or authors of Genesis
    knew theologically what they were presenting and that is why Paul is
    comfortable with his concepts of Adam as he was a product of 2nd
    Temple theology. When Paul says that
    Christ is the Last Adam we have a window into his mind of how he utilizes the
    Adam metaphor and it wasn’t about biology.

  • John Stamps

    Nineteenth-century Evangelicals didn’t make the same mistake that the Roman Catholic Church had made with the First Scientific Revolution. They made a different mistake. Evangelicals did not resist the anti-Aristotelian universe of Copernicus and Newton. In fact, they pledged their troth to it! As a result, the Second Scientific Revolution completely blind-sided them. These Evangelicals were good Baconian inductivists, with a vengeance. Baconian science consisted first of finding facts and then inductively building up your theories. They were obsessed with facts and allergic to theory. But Darwin turned all this upside-down. Many Evangelicals otherwise favorable to science couldn’t make any sense of Darwin’s new overarching “Theory” of Evolution. They couldn’t understand how “facts” are not brute or neutral based on simple sense observation –the empirical side of Baconianism– but are themselves theory-laden. Hence their repeated ongoing refrain we still hear to this very day as a refutation: “It’s just a theory!”

    George Marsden tells this story as well as anyone. Can I also add — none of this conflict was inevitable?

    • What? Darwin only published his “Origin of Species” after amassing years of biological evidence for natural selection.

  • Samuel Ogles

    Thanks for the post, and I agree with your point. But might the more important thing not be our view of God rather than the evolution v. creationism debate? I wrote about this in a recent post. What seems to matter is an expansive view of God. http://bloglesreflections.blogspot.com/2013/07/god-in-evolution.html

  • Juhani Miikala
    • Ann Gingrow Corbett

      Juhani, have you read Denis Lamoreux’s series about “evolutionary creation,” which Peter posted on this blog? I think that you might find Dr. Lamoreux’s views to be interesting and informative. Here’s a link to chapters 1 and 2.


    • Dean

      That article made absolutely no sense, but just a few things to note. The Mona Lisa example is tired. The reason we know the Mona Lisa was “designed” is because we have other paintings we can compare it to and we know how the process of painting a painting works. We contrast that with “natural” processes, such as patterns created by sand dunes, and we can say, yes a human intellect was behind the creation of the Mona Lisa. When you say all of nature is “designed” there is nothing to contrast it with (by definition). The analogy is not an analogy at all, it’s just a bald face assertion.

      Secondly, the theory of evolution says nothing about the origin of life, it’s a total red herring.

      Finally, the article also says nothing about Theistic Evolution, which even William Lane Craig, the godfather of conservative apologetics, says is a perfectly viable option for Christians to hold.

  • dangjin

    if you say God is wrong and secular, sinful, fallible scientists are correct, please leave the church and stop calling yourself a christian because you have no God, no faith, and no salvation.

    then you need to ask yourself the question: why would God include a lie in the Bible and leave discovery of the truth to unbelievers? Then ask yourself, why is God incapable of telling his people the truth and in preserving it? Why leave it up to his enemies to do that?

    there was no fictitious spiritual battle between orthodox and others over the contents of the bible, so leave that point out of your response. Stop trying to make the bible a human work and not a divine one so you can justify your rejection of God and his word.