Why I’m no longer a Theistic Evolutionist (1)

Over the past several years, I have been a vocal proponent of the theological perspective on creation known as “.” For those who are unfamiliar with the idea, (hereafter, TE) is simply the theological position that God used (and indeed, is still using) the process of evolution to create the diversity of life we currently observe on earth. While many TE’s prefer the term “Evolutionary Creation” since it emphasizes that evolution is simply the means by which God created and that it speaks to the fact that God is personally involved in creation through evolutionary means, they essentially amount to the same thing and I will continue to use the term “Theistic Evolution” (TE) for consistency.[1] By “evolution” most TE’s mean what is referred to as the “modern synthesis” in the scientific literature, which is the theory that all living species are descendants of other species through an evolutionary process of gradual biological transformation driven by genetic mutations and natural selection.[2] Key elements of this theory are (1) the notion of common descent, where all biological organisms (including humans) are genetically related to each other and can trace their ancestry back to a universal common ancestor, and (2) that the purely natural mechanisms of natural selection and genetic mutation are sufficient to generate the staggering amount of biological diversity and complexity we observe currently and in the fossil record.[3] It is this definition of “evolution” that I mean whenever I refer to it through the remainder of these posts.

Naturally, TE rejects the idea that God specially and supernaturally created different kinds of plants and animals at intermittent periods in the manner described in 1–2, and instead contends that “the gradual process of evolution was crafted and governed by God to create the diversity of all life on earth.”[4] To be clear, TE flatly rejects naturalism and strongly affirms that God is the creator of all things. On the TE perspective, the evolutionary process is just one of the many natural processes God creates and sustains. While the vast majority of TE’s affirm that God can and does intervene miraculously in the natural world at certain points, the evolutionary process is not one of those instances.[5] A common TE argument is that the natural, fully sufficient process of evolution demonstrates God’s wisdom in creating a system which does not require any supernatural intervention or “tinkering” from the outside.[6]

This is a view that I was comfortable with for a very long time. However, after a great deal of thought and reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that TE is no longer a tenable theological position to hold. In this series of posts, I will outline in some detail my primary reason for rejecting TE, namely that TE fundamentally denies the core historicity of the Genesis creation accounts. The term “historicity” is notoriously contentious, so for my purposes here, I am using the term to capture the commonsense idea of referring to real events in the real past as opposed to a purely mythical or imagined past. As a caveat, I am well aware that TE covers a broad spectrum, and some of my criticisms may not touch on every particular aspect of all forms of TE. Additionally, in large part due to the “big tent” nature of TE, not everyone will hold the same views on biblical authority that I do. In the interest of full transparency, I am coming from a reformed theological perspective. Further, I hold to the complete infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, and affirm along with the Westminster Confession of Faith that “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined… can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”[7] However, even if you disagree with my theological perspective, as someone who has spent a long time in TE circles and having advocated for TE on both a scholarly and popular level, it is my hope that some may find the conclusions I’ve come to helpful and thought-provoking.

References

[1] Currently, the largest and most influential Christian organization promoting and defending the TE perspective on creation is the BioLogos organization. According to their website, “BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.” BioLogos much prefers the term “Evolutionary Creation,” and the current BioLogos president specifies that “Evolutionary Creation is a subset of TE that emphasizes that the creator is the personal God revealed in the Bible and incarnated in Jesus Christ.” See Deborah B. Haarsma, “Evolutionary Creation,” in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, ed. J. B. Stump (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 125n5. See also https://biologos.org/common-questions/christianity-and-science/biologos-id-creationism.

[2] Another term for this theory is “Neo-Darwinism,” which simply specifies the Darwinian concept of evolutionary change driven by natural selection that is augmented with Mendelian genetics. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Darwinism.

[3] There is some current debate about whether these are the sole mechanisms of evolutionary change, stemming from the growing realization in the scientific community that the standard neo-Darwinian mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection are inadequate for generating the complex information required for large-scale evolutionary change. However, in spite of this, most TE’s in principle maintain that even though we may not have all the answers now, a fully natural explanation for the evolutionary process will be forthcoming.

[4] Haarsma, “Evolutionary Creation,” 125.

[5] Ibid, 133.

[6] For instance, Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 103.

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith, Chap. 1, Art. X, “Of the Holy Scripture,”  https://reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/. Accessed July 31, 2018.