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Don Stewart :: What Is Theistic Evolution?

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Don Stewart
Atheistic evolution leaves no room for God, for it explains all of existence through ongoing natural processes. There are those, however, who attempt to wed the theory of evolution with the teaching of special creation as recorded in the Bible. This idea is known as theistic evolution.

Many people who feel the Bible is not intended to convey any information about the universe also believe that the theory of evolution causes no problem for the Christian. God, they say, only tells us "that" He created the universe, but He did not tell us "how." Therefore, there exists a number of scientists who call themselves "Christian evolutionists" or "theistic evolutionists."

Broad Range

Theistic evolution covers a broad range of ideas. Generally, it takes the position that evolution happened, but that a Creator or intelligence was somehow involved in the process. Most theistic evolutionists believe in some direct acts of a Creator. There is a difference regarding the number and the extent of the Creators direct acts. Writer Batsell Barrett Baxter provides a working definition of theistic evolution:

The theistic evolutionist holds a position somewhat between that of the absolute evolutionist and the creationist. He believes that God created the materials of our universe and then guided and superintended the process by which all life has evolved from the very simplest one-celled form on up to the sophisticated forms which we know today. Evolution was Gods method of bringing about the present development though originally the materials were created by God (Batsell Barrett Baxter, I Believe Because, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House: 1971, p. 159).

The Case For Theistic Evolution

Theistic evolutionists generally side with atheistic evolution teaching that mankind slowly evolved from primitive life forms by means of animal evolutionary stages through long ages. They teach that a race of subhuman men lived thousands of years before Adam was born. God then selected Adam from among this race, breathed the breath of God into him, and thus, rendered him no longer an animal but a man. Then God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Hence, Adam was spiritually, but not physically, the first member of the new human race.

Scientist R. J. Berry, one of the most vocal spokesmen for theistic evolution, writes:

A Christian need have no problem with fossil man and his discussions of the relationship of modern man with other hominoids, because he is told God created . . . man in existing material. There is certainly no difficulty in believing God could have carried out this special creation in a hominoid ape. There is no reason to believe the hominoid would change morphologically or genetically in any way that would be detectable to an anthropologist (R. J. Berry, Creation and Evolution, edited by Derek Burke, Leicester, England, Inter-Varsity Press: 1985, p. 80).

According to this view, when God put His spirit in Adam and he became a life-giving soul, a new relationship developed spiritually, not physically. Theologian John Stott adds:

It seems perfectly possible to reconcile the historicity of Adam with at least some (theistic) evolutionary theory. Many biblical Christians in fact do so, believing them to be not entirely incompatible. To assert the historicity of an original pair who sinned through disobedience is one thing; it is quite another to deny all evolution and to assert that separate and special creation of everything both subhuman creatures and Adams body. The suggestion (for it is no more than this) does not seem to be against Scripture and therefore impossible that when God made man in His own image, what He did was to stamp His own likeness on one of the many hominoids which appear to have been living at the time (John Stott, The Church of England Newspaper, June 7, 1968).

Adams Sin

R. J. Berry says the fall did not cause sin and death to enter into the world:
The fall did not lead to physical death . . . and we are wrong to infer that disease and suffering are necessarily and directly a result of sin - Christ Himself pointed out that this was a misreading of Scripture (Lk. 13:1-4). Biological Adam can be studied by anthropologists and evolutionists; spiritually - that is truly human - Adam can be understood and studied only by believers (Heb. 11:3) (R. J. Berry, Creation and Evolution, p. 105).

Scientist Tim Hawthorne writes:

If Adam and Eve were immortal, the mind boggles at the consequences of the instruction Be fruitful and increase your number (Genesis 1:23) - an earth soon over-populated with immortal descendants! . . . The world of Genesis which God called good must have included pain and death if the living creatures described were anything like those we know today (Tim Hawthorne, Windows on Science and Faith, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England: 1986, p. 88).

Language Of Genesis

Theistic evolutionists do not hold to a literal reading of the text of Genesis. They believe that Genesis is allegory, poetry or saga. Scientists Walter Hearne and Richard Hendry wrote:

The authors of this chapter consider the expressions of Scripture regarding the creation of life to be sufficiently figurative to imply little or no limitations on possible mechanisms (Walter Hearne and Richard Hendry, "The Origin of Life," Evolution and Christian Thought Today, Russell L. Mixter, editor, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959, p. 69).
Two other writers conclude:

It is mistaken to treat the first chapter of Genesis as science. It is a literary statement of the universal Lordship of God, and mankinds utter dependence upon him. It is a story of the wonder of our creation, yet the awfulness of our rebellion . . . .

Genesis then rings as true as ever, whether one follows an evolutionary account of biological origins or not (Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page, Evolution: The Great Debate, Oxford, England: Lion Publishing, 1989, pp. 188,189).

Jesus Testimony

Theistic Evolutionists do not regard Jesus testimony to Genesis as solving the matter of interpretation. Hawthorne writes:

Now Jesus certainly accepted the Genesis account as authoritative, for instance when he referred to Gods making male and female humans in discussing divorce. But to argue that taking it as authoritative means he was endorsing a particular literalistic interpretation is to beg the question. The argument assumes that the early chapters of Genesis were written as a plain factual narrative. Many reverent students of the Old Testament will disagree (Tim Hawthorne, Windows on Science and Faith, p. 26).

R. J. Berry considers Jesus comments on Genesis as being irrelevant. He dismisses Jesus statement in Matthew 19:4 and Peters statement concerning creation in 2 Peter 3:5 by saying, "The . . . two passages are not relevant and it is not clear they imply a literal reading" (R. J. Berry, Creation and Evolution, p. 56).

Results Of Science

Theistic evolutionists consider that modern science has proven evolution to be true therefore they feel the need to make the Scripture teach it. R. J. Berry cites non-Christian scientist Richard Lewontin who emphatically states that evolution is a fact:

It is time for students of the evolutionary process, especially those who have been misquoted and used by creationists, to state clearly that evolution is fact, not theory, and that what is at issue within biology are questions of detail of the process and the relative importance of different mechanisms of evolution (R. C. Lewontin, cited by R. J. Berry, Creation and Evolution, p. 105).

No Conflict?

Some non-Christians, such as Steve Allen, see no conflict between accepting evolution and believing in the existence of God:

Although it is absurd for literalist fundamentalists to deny the existence of evolution, given that the reality of that process is readily observable, it is equally erroneous to suggest that if evolution has occurred, the mere fact of its existence disproves the possibility that there is a God. In reality, there is no necessary connection or lack of connection between evolution and God. The majority of well-educated Christians and members of other religions believe, in fact, that evolution has simply been Gods practical method of creating and developing all aspects of nature that are alive, which is to say plants and animals. It is apparently only fundamentalists who are confused about this (Steve Allen, Steve Allen on Religion, The Bible, and Morality, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1990, p. 94).


We can summarize theistic evolution as follows: The first three chapters of Genesis are a mix of history and allegory. Theistic evolution cannot take the creation narrative literally. The theistic evolutionist assumes that all forms of life evolved along evolutionary lines. However, these humanlike creatures lacked the ability to communicate with God. So God selected one chosen pair from the species and provided that which was missing - a spirit. After they failed to obey His commandments God banished them from His presence and sentenced them to spiritual death. This punishment was handed down to all their descendants making the Christs death on the cross necessary to atone for our sins.

At first glance, this approach accepts the Bible as inspired and authoritative, Adam and Eve as historical persons, as well as Darwinian evolution. Hence, the integrity of the Scripture is maintained, as well as acceptance of the "fact" of evolution.

These points are generally made in the case for theistic evolution. Those who hold to theistic evolution resent the implication that they are siding with evolutionists against creation. The claim to believe both. Evolution, they believe, is the mechanism God used. They say they are not debating against creation but rather against a non-evolutionary interpretation of it. The issue is not can a Bible believing Christian accept theistic evolution? It is obvious they can. The real question is should a Bible-believing Christian endorse this theory?
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