SERIES: GENESIS – PART 6
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
Atheistic evolution is no possible view of creation for Christians. It is ruled out simply because it is atheistic. But this does not mean that an evolutionary model must in itself be ruled out. Some who would retain belief in evolution while nevertheless identifying themselves as Christians are the theistic evolutionists.
Theistic evolution is the view of those who are committed to the theory of evolution and who retain it in full except at those few points where, as it seems to them, it is not entirely compatible with Christianity. They are theists because they believe in the Christian God. They believe that he has revealed himself in Scripture. But they are also evolutionists because they think that evolution is right. That is, they believe that everything has evolved through long periods of time from primitive to more complex forms. They believe that life has evolved from nonlife. They believe that man has evolved from the lower animals. Generally they accept the scientific data urged in support of evolution. The main difference between the theistic evolutionists and the atheistic evolutionists is that the former believe that God, specifically the God of the Bible, is providentially guiding the evolutionary process, while the latter attribute the identical developments to chance.
Another way of putting it would be to say that the God of theistic evolution is the God of the gaps. In the last message we pointed out four major problems with atheistic evolution: it cannot explain the origin of matter, the form of matter, the emergence of life, or the appearance of personality or God-consciousness in man. The theistic evolutionist would bring in God at these points. God creates matter and life. But aside from that the theistic evolutionist would view things as having happened precisely as his nonbelieving counterpart views them.
What are we to say to this view? The first thing we must say is that it is at least a possibility. We may put it like this. There is no reason for the Christian to deny that one form of fish may have evolved from another form or even that one form of land animal may have evolved from a sea creature. We may not believe that this has actually happened, for the reasons set forth in our last message. But in itself this view of creation is not biblically impossible.
The Hebrew word translated by our word “let,” which occurs throughout the creation account, allows for this. It does not specify a method by which God caused most things to come into being. However, there are three points at which even the Genesis narrative seems to require something different. These are the points at which the powerful Hebrew word baraʾ, rendered “created,” rather than the word “let” occurs. Baraʾ means to create out of nothing. It is used in verse 1, which speaks of the creation of the original substance of the universe out of nothing; verse 21, which speaks of the creation of conscious life (that is, of animals as opposed to plants); and verse 27, which speaks of the creation of man in God’s image. At these points there is an obvious introduction into creation of something strikingly new, something that did not and could not have evolved from things in existence previously. So long as the evolutionist speaks of the Christian God as the one who has introduced these new elements and has guided the evolutionary development at other points also (so that the result is not the mere product of chance but rather the unfolding of God’s own wise and perfect will), most Christians would say that, thus far at least, the approach of the theistic evolutionist is possible.
Some important Christian thinkers have said exactly this. No less weighty a scholar than B. B. Warfield, in an essay, “On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race,” said that although evolution “cannot act as a substitute for creation,” it can supply “a theory of the method of the divine providence” (B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies, P&R, 1968, 238).
Another example is the great Scottish divine of the last century, James Orr. In the years 1890–91, Orr gave the well-known Kerr lectures on the subject “The Christian View of God and the World,” in the course of which he defended evolution. “In reality, the facts of evolution do not weaken the proof from design, but rather immensely enlarge it by showing all things to be bound together in a vaster, grander plan than had been formerly conceived. … On the general hypothesis of evolution, as applied to the organic world, I have nothing to say, except that, within certain limits, it seems to me extremely probable, and supported by a large body of evidence” (James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as Centering in the Incarnation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960, 90).
Even more significant is the essay published by Orr in that collection of conservative writings that appeared at the beginning of this century, The Fundamentals, from which the term “fundamentalist” came. In it Orr defends theistic evolution as propounded by R. Otto in Naturalism and Religion. He says at one point, “ ‘Evolution,’ in short, is coming to be recognized as but a new name for ‘creation,’ only that the creative power now works within, instead of, as in the old conception, in an external, plastic fashion” (Orr, “Science and Christian Faith,” The Fundamentals, vol. 1, ed. R.A. Torrey, A.C. Dixon, and others. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972, 346. Original edition 1917).
Neither of these men was himself a theistic evolutionist, though Orr comes very close to endorsing the position. The point is simply that in the judgment of these cautious and eminently biblical spokesmen, theistic evolution is a possible theory and therefore should not be rejected out of hand by Christian people.
Points in Favor
Possibility is not certainty, however, and it is only fair to say that for what they consider to be very good reasons other Christians reject this approach entirely. One of them is Davis A. Young, whose own position is progressive creationism. (To be discussed in a future sermon – Genesis – Part 9) He writes against theistic evolution saying that it “leads logically and ultimately to the death of genuinely biblical religion.” In the heading of the chapter in which theistic evolution is specifically studied he calls this view “a house built upon sand” (Davis A. Young, Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Flood Geology and Theistic Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977, 18, 23ff.).
What are we to think of theistic evolution? Positively, we may say that it has two important points in its favor. First, truth is truth wherever it is found. So if evolution is true, as evolutionists certainly believe, and if the Bible is also true, then something like the view of the theistic evolutionists must be reality. Again, this does not mean that evolution is true. But it does mean that we must at least ask whether it is true or not, and if it is true, we must learn from it. We must remember at this point that many theories of science were once declared to be anti-Christian but are now held by Christians and non-Christians alike with no apparent ill effects to Christianity.
One example is Copernican astronomy. Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the physical center of the universe. This was immediately assailed by those who felt that the Bible taught differently. Today we recognize that biblical language that was thought to imply a central earth is merely phenomenal. That is, it describes things as they appear to an earthbound observer (for whom indeed the Bible is written) and not as things actually are from a scientific standpoint. But in Copernicus’s day this was not seen, and Galileo, who held to the Copernican astronomy, was eventually compelled by irate churchmen to recant. Similarly, in the past there have been Christians who have opposed most advances in medicine—pain killers, anesthetics, operations—feeling that these wrongly oppose God’s decrees. Others have opposed such scientific devices as lightning rods, arguing that lightning was from God and that if God chose to strike a building it was sinful on our part to oppose it. In all these cases the terrible warnings made in support of the “Christian” position did not materialize and truth prevailed.
The second argument in favor of theistic evolution is that God seems to work according to this pattern in other areas. Theistic evolution posits a universe that operates according to fixed, universal laws into which, however, God sometimes intrudes, as in the creation of life from nonlife or the implanting of God-consciousness in man. “Isn’t this exactly what we see in life generally or, for that matter, in the history recorded for us in the Bible?” the theistic evolutionist might say. “For the most part the history of Israel and the church flows along naturally. Leaders arise, do their thing, and then die giving place to other rulers. It is only occasionally that God intervenes miraculously. To see this pattern at work in evolution is biblical. It is what we should expect on the basis of what we know of Christian history.”
A House on Sand
Then Christians should all be theistic evolutionists? Not necessarily! There are also important weaknesses in this view to which none should be blind.
First, there is a problem with the supposed truthfulness of evolution itself. The theistic evolutionist believes in evolution, as we have seen. But evolution is not necessarily true, as we have also seen. Indeed, there are important reasons for discounting it. One main reason for rejecting evolution is the lack of fossil evidence. To be sure, the evolutionist reads the fossil record differently, seeing in it a sketchy but adequate history of the development of higher forms of life from lower forms. But the record is at best incomplete and may, as creationists hold, actually provide better evidence for the creationist’s view than for the evolutionist’s. As we said in the last message, it is not merely a question of a few missing links. There are hundreds of missing links. It is questionable whether there is any evidence for the development of one species from a lower species. What the fossil evidence actually shows—even granting the alleged antiquity of the earth and the accepted sequence of fossils and rock strata—is the sudden appearance of major groups of species. If evolution is true, we should expect to find a finely graded and continuous development. Since we do not, we can honestly object to the theistic evolutionist’s first argument in support of his theory, namely, that evolution is true and that the Christian should not be afraid to acknowledge it.
Again, we must emphasize the fact that certain forms of evolutionary development may be true. But the creationist may well ask the theistic evolutionist whether he does not hold his position, not so much because of the scientific evidence for it, but only because it is the accepted (and only acceptable) theory in his field of work.
The second objection corresponds to the theist’s second argument, just as the creationist’s first objection corresponds to his first. The theistic evolutionist might appeal to the Bible as suggesting a pattern of God’s dealings with the human race, which he also sees in evolution—general development according to fixed laws with only an occasional supernatural intervention. But we must ask whether this is really the biblical picture. According to evolution, the development of life on earth has proceeded over a period of several billion years with at best two or three divine interventions. Is this the pattern we find in Scripture? It is true that in biblical history miracles are not everyday occurrences, but they are not all that infrequent either. Hundreds of supernatural interventions by God are recorded. And as for the development of the rest of history along the lines of natural law, would it not be more accurate to say that all history is in God’s hand and that it is being directed by him in intricate detail according to his own perfect plans?
The theistic evolutionist would say that in his view God has directed evolution just as he has directed the history of Israel. But if God has directed evolution according to that pattern, it is not quite the kind of evolution real evolutionists talk about. According to them, evolution is a long, slow, wasteful, crude, inefficient, and mistake-ridden process. The God of the Bible hardly fits those categories. If evolution is made to conform to his nature—efficient, wise, good, and error-free—it is hardly evolution, and the theistic evolutionist who is really a biblical theist has become a creationist though he does not actually describe himself by that word.
Third, we may ask whether the method of creation viewed by the theistic evolutionist does justice to the biblical record. Since the method of God’s creating the animals, birds, and fish is not given in Genesis 1, it may be that God effected this segment of his creation according to an evolutionary model. But in the case of man there does seem to be something of a method, at least in Genesis 2: “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (v. 7). This suggests that in the creation of man God began, as it were, de novo. That is, he started with inorganic matter into which he then breathed life. It does not suggest that man developed from the lesser animals.
We could always say that man is made of dust even though the actual steps of his creation involved a lengthy development through lesser species. But we run into further difficulties when we get to the case of Eve, for Eve is said to have been created from Adam. This does not correspond to any evolutionary theory.
Again, there is the problem of the singularity of Adam. In Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22–23 and 45, comparisons are made between Adam and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is basic to this comparison that Adam was an individual whose act affected his progeny. Does this fit in with evolutionary theory? In evolution the basic unit is population, not an individual. At what point did Adam appear? Or did he appear? If God chose one individual from a population of prehuman but manlike beings and made him man, what happened to the rest? Questions like these make questionable whether the theistic evolutionist can defend his position on biblical grounds.
Death of Biblical Religion
This leads us to our last criticism, the one Davis Young alludes to when he says that theistic evolution leads “logically and ultimately to the death of biblical religion.” There is an unbiblical view of the Bible that Young feels to be characteristic of these men.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is perhaps the best known and best read of the theistic evolutionists. He is French and is a Roman Catholic priest, which should speak well for his Christian commitment. He has a concern for the immaterial or spiritual as well as the material. He can even chide science: “Has science ever troubled to look at the world other than from without?” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1959, 52). But he is also an evolutionist of the most convinced stripe, and this determines his theology in the final analysis.
For de Chardin there is no question that evolution on the grandest scale has taken place. Therefore, if our understanding of Scripture seems to be in conflict with evolutionary views, it is our views of Scripture or even Scripture itself that must give way before science. He writes: “It may be said that the problem of transformism no longer exists. The question is settled once and for all. To shake our belief now in the reality of biogenesis, it would be necessary to uproot the tree of life and undermine the entire structure of the world. … One might well become impatient or lose heart at the sight of so many minds (and not mediocre ones either) remaining today still closed to the idea of evolution, if the whole of history were not there to pledge to us that a truth once seen, even by a single mind, always ends up by imposing itself on the totality of human consciousness. … Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.”
His thought is his own, of course. We do not suggest that all theistic evolutionists share it. Yet it is evident from these quotations why Young calls this view ultimately destructive. Biblical religion must by its very definition start with the Bible and make all other theories subordinate to that. In de Chardin’s case, everything has become subject to evolution, and an ability to hear the reforming, correcting Word of God in Scripture has been lost. We must ask whether such a tendency is not present in all theistic evolution.
What should the Christian’s proper position be? An openness to all truth certainly, but not the kind of openness that allows scientific theory or any other theory to sit in judgment on the truthfulness of God’s written Word. Actually, the Christian’s task is the opposite: to bring every thought into subjection to the written Word. Paul knew this. He wrote to those of his day, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4–5). We may not know the truth in any given area. But we must know that our ultimate standard for truth—whatever it is—is the written Word of God.
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 6 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Sources: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website
from the Tenth Presbyterian Church website
1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,