What Are Your Objections?

Brad Kramer had another thought-provoking post on his blog The Evolving Evangelical at BioLogos this week. At the Evangelical Theological Society meeting earlier this month he and Jim Stump had the opportunity to ask those who stopped by their BioLogos booth what objections they had to the concept of evolutionary creation. The top five match fairly well with the responses that I’ve received on this blog over the last seven years and the comments that I’ve heard in other conversations. Brad’s five:

1. A plain reading of the Bible doesn’t allow for it.

2. Evolution makes it difficult to understand Adam, the Fall, and sin (and thus the work of Christ).

3. Micro-Evolution is fine, but Macro-Evolution is just an unproven, unscientific theory

4. Creation bears the marks of Intelligent Design, not blind, purposeless evolution

5. Evolution is driven by a secular, worldly agenda

You can read Brad’s thoughts on these five objections on the original post at his blog (5 Common Objections to Evolutionary Creationism). Here I’ll add some comments of my own along with references to some of the books that I’ve looked at over the years.

1. Creation and the Bible.

Apollo 8 earth riseBrad found this objection raised less often than he expected, but perhaps that reflects the sophistication of the audience at the ETS meeting. Objections grounded in the interpretation of scripture are the most common objections that I’ve heard. Even those who accept, or want to accept, the science, struggle with what this means for the interpretation and reliability of Scripture. As a result I find it essential to start with the Bible, and in the Bible to start with Genesis and the other creation texts. A substantial number of the books I’ve read and posts I’ve written over the years focus on Scripture and on the Old Testament in particular. (You can find an index of my posts by clicking on Index of Books and Posts under the banner at the top of the page.) Ironically I got an angry response from one commenter who claimed that it was deceitful to start with Scripture when making an argument for evolutionary creation. I don’t think there is any place else where we as Christians should start. I find that a careful reading makes the “plain sense” interpretation of biblical creation hard to defend unless we pick and choose between texts (e.g. ignoring pillars, firmament and storehouses while defending immediate creation of species). It is clear that the “plain sense” interpretation leads to an ancient Near Eastern cosmology that we know to be untrue. I think we need a literary interpretation that takes into account the thought world of the ancient Near Eastern context and the genres and literary conventions of the time.

A small selection of helpful books:

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate by John Walton (This one was a game-changer in that has helped many to see the biblical story of creation in a different, but completely biblical, light.)

Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III.

In the Beginning … We Misunderstood by Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N.T. Wright (Not so much about creation as about the authority of Scripture.)

Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science by Kyle Greenwood

2. Adam, the Fall, Sin and Atonement.

michelangelo's Adam 2This should really be divided into several sections although they are related to each other. For many people the issue here is the same as in the first objection. A “plain sense” reading of scripture supports the existence of a unique Adam progenitor of the human race and we should accept this. However, it is not clear that a plain sense reading really does support this view of Adam. Parts of Genesis 4 and 5 make substantially more sense under the assumption of a population of humans.

For other people the issue is more deeply theological. Christ redeems us from sin and death. Romans 5:12 leads off the key passage: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.This leads to a number of objections: (1) Death through sin doesn’t seem consistent with death as a mechanism of creation. (2) Sin is not “natural” (as evolutionary theory suggests) but an aberration introduced by the rebellion of a sinless man. (3) The comparison of one man Adam with one man Christ requires Adam and the Fall.

It is not clear to me that the “traditional” (esp. reformed) interpretation of some of these ideas is the most faithful to the entire biblical story. It is clear, however, that humans are a mess and that the incarnation – God become man – is essential to the redemption of mankind. This is a conversation we need to have and the theological considerations require an open mind and charity as we move forward.

We’ve discussed a number of books on Adam over the years. Perhaps the most helpful is:

The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate by John Walton

I also found the following (more academic) books very helpful:

Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives by Peter Bouteneff

The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 by J. Richard Middleton

Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins by David Livingstone

The Nature of Creation: Examining the Bible and Science by Mark Harris

Finally, Pete Enns has become controversial for some, but this book presents a helpful discussion whether you agree with his conclusions or not. I found the sections on the Old Testament especially thought provoking.

The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins by Peter Enns

3. Micro-evolution versus macro-evolution.

WhalesThis is a distinction without meaning, the kind of thing that causes biologists (and some of the rest of us) to tear their hair out. Now, do we really want a world populated only by bald biologists? The kinds of small scale changes we can easily observe and understand are powered by the same kinds of processes that result in much more fundamental changes on much longer time scales. There are many lines of evidence for macro evolution but the most persuasive are found in the fossil record and in the genetic material of different organisms. Macro-evolution is micro-evolution over long time scales. Each change is micro (or the organism wouldn’t survive) but the cumulative effect can be large. This objection generally reflects a misunderstanding of evolution (as do jokes about crocoducks …).

Dr. B. K. (Bev) Mitchell, retired biology professor from the University of Alberta, off and on commenter here, recently put together a list of books on evolution for theologians posted by Pete Enns at his blog: So, theologian, want to know more about biology? Sure you do. Here are some books. Of these I’d particularly recommend Denis Noble’s The Music of Life: Biology Beyond Genes and Denis Alexander’s The Language of Genetics: An Introduction.

Several Christian biology professors have also written useful books. Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science and Gary Fugle’s Laying Down Arms to Heal the Creation-Evolution Divide contain good lay-level introductions.

4. Creation bears the marks of Intelligent Design, not blind, purposeless evolution.

While many secular biologists will claim that evolution is blind and purposeless, this is not my view – or that of other Christians who accept evolutionary Creation. As a Christian I certainly believe that God created the world intelligently and with design. There is a reason why we are here and a purpose to creation that goes beyond the merely material. But this doesn’t rule out evolutionary processes. It is a false dichotomy to distinguish between God’s action and natural processes. God can and does work through natural processes.

I could list a dozen or more books here, but will restrict myself to four:

God’s Universe by Owen Gingerich

A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology by Alister McGrath

Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe by Simon Conway Morris. (This one is a bit academic, but excellent content.)

God and the Cosmos: Divine Activity in Space, Time and History by Harry Lee Poe and Jimmy H. Davis

5. Evolution is driven by a secular, worldly agenda.

As Christians we should be concerned about the secular trends in the world. We face many threats and influences from the world drawing us away from God. The lure of money, sex, and power. The consumerism of our culture. Ambition and pride. Secular materialism as a worldview. Thing is, this secular “agenda” isn’t what drives evolutionary biology. Evolutionary biology is accepted because it provides a coherent framework connecting vast amount of otherwise unconnected knowledge.

Scientists, being human, can use the concepts of evolutionary biology as a means to further a secular materialist world view. Others of us see an evolutionary creation – not secular materialism at all, but the handiwork of God.

Combating the secular trends in the world by opposing evolutionary biology will be as effective as fighting mosquitoes by eliminating all sources of fresh water, turning the country into a desert. It cannot be done and the attempt serves to exacerbate our problems. Focusing on this issue avoids the real problems, serves to set Christians up for a conflict if they learn more biology and to keep many educated non-Christians from even considering the possibility that Christian faith is the way forward.

I don’t have any specific book recommendations here, but Daniel Harrell’s excellent and entertaining book Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith provides an engaging and conversational look at the issues that evolution raises for faith. This is an excellent introductory book. The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins is another excellent starting point.

What are your views on any of these objections?

How would you respond – either to me or those who voice these objections?

What other objections would you raise?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

If you would like to comment please see What Are Your Objections? at Jesus Creed.

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