Dialogue: is it always worthwhile?

In the recent past, I have participated in dialogues, discussions, and debates with various proponents of evolution (theistic and otherwise). After many words and much time spent, I came to a realization. While dialogue can certainly be useful, there are times when you find yourself going around in circles. On one of those occasions, I wrote the following to explain why I felt the discussion had reached a natural endpoint:

We seem to be going around in circles, to some degree. We both have a decent understanding of the Scripture and the science being discussed.

I believe that the Genesis account is meant to be read as a literal history of what actually happened and that there are repercussions on many fundamental Christian doctrines when one takes a more allegorical approach. I also believe that the science, especially the evolutionary science, is open to interpretation and debate.

You believe that the evolutionary science is solid and that there are repercussions to the rest of science when one interprets the science differently. You also believe, from what you’ve stated, that the Scripture is open to interpretation and debate.

These are fundamentally opposite positions. From what I’ve read, your position is that YEC is bad science and bad theology, in that it does not accurately represent the truth of nature, and it is damaging to the faith and witness of the Church. I believe that theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism is bad science and bad theology, in that it relies on fundamentally flawed presuppositions to interpret the scientific evidence, and it does damage to the faith by undermining or redefining many important doctrines.

I’m not sure we can say that we are the same where it counts. Not that I question your faith, because I don’t. I hate to keep using the same word, but there is a fundamental difference in our hermeneutic approaches to Scripture and that leads to many, many differences. There is a very real danger that the hermeneutical approach favored by theistic evolutionists, like those at BioLogos, will lead to an eventual denial of the resurrection. Not that everyone who holds to theistic evolution will eventually deny the resurrection, but the same approach that reinterprets Genesis in light of what “science knows” is regularly used to reinterpret the resurrection.

So, I’m not sure where we go from here. I don’t mind discussing with you, but we do seem to be saying the same things over and over again.

While this is based on one particular conversation that I had, it is generally applicable to most dialogues between creationists and evolutionists. In my opinion, arguing over the evidences, one way or the other, is often wasted breath. I don’t believe that I can change their minds, although I pray that the Lord will, and I know that they will not change my mind, although I bet they are praying for me too. So, while I do believe that there is a time and place for evidence and dialogues, I also believe that there is a time for silence.

He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:31 ESV)

The Stigma of Our Generation: Rejecting Evolution

[E]very generation of Christianity has its own stigma by which the believer’s faith is severely tested. … The most hotly contested issue of any day is that which makes the minority view look foolish and makes the believer look a fool. Athanasius stood alone in his day when he stood for the full deity of Jesus Christ. The world is against you, they would say to Athanasius. Flashing his black eyes, he retorted: ‘If the world is against Athanasius, the Athanasius is against the world.’

Things are no different today. We may think that our issue is unprecedented in weightiness in its threat to the Bible. We may fear that at long last the Bible will be disproved and Christianity made extinct. But there is nothing new under the sun. …

The stigma of our generation then, it seems to me, is to reject the theory of evolution and stand unflinchingly for creation by God:’that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear.’

R.T. Kendall, “Faith and Creation,” Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, pgs. 109-110)

No crisis of faith necessary, simply exchange conservative beliefs for liberal ones

One of the goals that organizations like the BioLogos foundation have is to reconcile evolutionary creation and biblical faith. Of their great concern is the number of people who have had a “crisis of faith” because of the apparent conflict between science and faith and have left the church. The goal is to show Christians that they don’t have to give up their faith to accept the scientific consensus on evolution. All they have to do is adjust their understanding of Scripture and what it teaches.

Many critics of this approach have argued that this kind of accommodation leads to further accommodation and the loss of more and more tenets of biblical faith. Slippery slope arguments, as they are often called, generally are sneered at and ridiculed. However, the truth of this danger is fairly easy to demonstrate.

Dr. Peter Enns, formerly a BioLogos senior fellow, wrote in his book, The Evolution of Adam, that maybe we should reconsider our definition of sin and our understanding of death, in consideration of the “truth of evolution”:

Although … sin and death are universal realities, the Christian tradition has generally attributed the cause to Adam. But evolution removes that cause as Paul understood it and thus leaves open the questions of where sin and death have come from. More than that, the very nature of what sin is and why people die is turned on its head. Some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful — for example, in an evolutionary scheme the aggression and dominance associated with “survival of the fittest” and sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool — are understood as means of ensuring survival. Likewise, death is not the enemy to be defeated. It may be feared, it may be ritualized, it may be addressed in epic myths and sagas; but death is not the unnatural state introduced by a disobedient couple in a primordial garden. Actually, it is the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet and even ensures workable population numbers. Death may hurt, but it is evolution’s ally (160).

Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, has written a book with Dr. Randall Stephens entitled, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. In their book, Giberson and Stephens argue that evangelical Christians must learn to accept the scientific consensuses and stop making fools of themselves by going against the tide. They also believe that there is a simple answer to avoiding a crisis of faith:

Not all born-again Christians lose their faith in such crises, of course. Many simply find a new articulation and a new place in the parallel culture of evangelicalism where they are more comfortable and where they can live more faithfully. The spectrum of evangelical belief runs from a rigid, judgmental, sometimes harsh fundamentalism on one end to a more liberal and culturally plural expressions on the other. Often an evangelical ‘crisis of faith’ is resolved with a simple liberalizing, whereby specific beliefs—biblical literalism, young earth creationism, homosexuality as perversion, eternal torment of the damned in a literal hell, the sinfulness of abortion—are abandoned and other beliefs—the Bible as literature, concern for the environment, racial and cultural equality for oppressed groups, universality of salvation, an emphasis on social justice, tolerance of diversity—move to the center as animating ethical and theological concerns. The evangelical spectrum encompasses both of these camps (216).

Notice that evangelicals are urged not only to give up a belief in Young Earth Creationism, but also the inerrancy of Scripture, a literal hell, and homosexuality and abortion as sins. It’s never just about evolution. To accept evolution as the “way God created” requires a type of mental gymnastics with what Scripture teaches. Once you give up the orthodox teachings on Scripture, everything else is open to redefinition. How much longer until Giberson and the rest accept the scientific consensus that no man has ever risen from the dead?

An Atheist Evolutionist Asks a Good Question of Dr. Peter Enns

It seems that Young Earth Creationists are not the only ones who find BioLogos’ attempt to “reconcile science and faith” lacking. One atheist and evolutionist, Dr. Jerry Coyne, believes very strongly that evolution and Christianity are not at all compatible. In a recent article, Dr. Coyne challenges what he sees as BioLogos’ “sucking up to evangelical Christians, or giving them ludicrous ways to comport their faith with scientific truth—ways that are themselves unscientific (e.g., the historicity of Adam and Eve).”

First, Dr. Coyne reiterates his concern with BioLogos’ basic approach:

For a long time now BioLogos has ignored its initial mission of trying to convert evangelical Christians to evolution. It didn’t work—as I predicted—because those Christians know that if you buy Darwinian evolution, then you have to see much of the Bible as either fictional or at best metaphorical. And if you do that, then where does the metaphor stop? Was Jesus a metaphor for how we humans can save ourselves?

Evangelicals won’t buy that, nor do they like what they see as the other philosophical accoutrements of evolution: our status as mere evolved beasts like gibbons, the lack of a human soul, the absence of an external purpose or meaning to our lives, or of a God-imposed morality, and so on.

He goes on to quote from an article by Dr. Peter Enns on the subject of the Bible as metaphor where Dr. Enns attempts to show a similarity between Jesus’ parables and the “stories” in Genesis:

If this is how God chooses to communicate at the incarnation—the very climax and epicenter of his story—we should not be surprised to see God painting vivid portraits elsewhere in Scripture. This is especially true of Genesis and creation. Something so fundamental to God’s story may need to be told in a way that transcends the limitations of purely intellectual engagement. Genesis may be written more to show us—by grabbing us with its images than laying out a timeline of cause and effect events—that God is the central figure on the biblical drama.

Dr. Coyne isn’t buying it:

Most of us see the Bible as a total fiction. The great tragedy of Enns, and of accommodationists like him, is that he can’t buy that whole hog: because of childhood indoctrination or a desire to believe what is comforting, a Biblical scholar convinces himself that part of a fictional book really is fiction, though it teaches timeless truths, while other parts or non-negotiable fact. And he has no way, despite his Ph.D. in Biblical scholarship, to do that. Tell us, Dr. Enns: if Genesis was just a useful myth rather than truth, how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God and came back from the dead?

When Young Earth Creationists ask the question of where theistic evolutionists draw the line between reality and metaphor, they are ridiculed for over-reacting. Theistic evolutionists roll their eyes and say of course we believe that Jesus was actually resurrected. But notice again that the question keeps being raised and not just by the YEC crowd. If we can’t trust Genesis to be historical fact, then how can we trust that the Gospels are either?

GA Seminar: No Room in the PCA for Young Earth Creationism?

In 2000, the Creation Study Committee submitted a report to the 28th General Assembly on the issue of creation. The report is extensive and covers many topics including various views of the length of the creation days and the original intent of the Westminster Assembly in regards to interpreting Genesis 1–3. The most important part of the report comes from the advice and counsel portion at the end of the report. While acknowledging there to be different opinions within the PCA regarding the nature and length of the creation days, they found considerable unity on the issues of “vital importance to our Reformed testimony.” Here is the statement from the committee:

All the Committee members join in these affirmations: The Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1–3, are the inerrant word of God. That Genesis 1–3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses. That history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true. In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life). We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer. Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research. We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority. We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism.

The report explains, in great detail, four main interpretations of creation that are common within the PCA. These views are: the Calendar Day interpretation (also known as Young Earth Creationism), the Day-Age interpretation, the Framework interpretation, and the Analogical Days interpretation. According to the committee, these views are all different, but all are in agreement with the affirmations made by the committee. The conclusion one can draw from the report is that there is room in the PCA for a diversity of opinions on the age of the earth and the length of the creation days. Or, at least, there used to be room.

Apparently, some in the denomination believe that it’s time to reinterpret the Creation Study Report based on the “scientific evidence for an ancient earth.” At the upcoming General Assembly, there will be a seminar on this topic: The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now? Dr. Gregg Davidson and Dr. Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures will be speaking on why we must accept the scientific consensus for the age of the earth:

This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations.

What’s interesting about this seminar is that while the PCA Creation Study Report does not take a position on the age of the earth, the speakers at this seminar do. The implication from the summary is that the science is settled, and therefore, we need to accept that Young Earth Creationism is not a viable position. According to the summary, not only is YEC bad science, it also reflects badly on Christ as the author of truth. This is a very disturbing statement.

Why is the PCA having only one side of this issue represented? Is there not anyone in the PCA who can represent the Young Earth position? Given the diversity of opinions represented in the Creation Study Report on the age of the earth, it seems odd that one position would be promoted in this way.

The other very disturbing part of this seminar is who Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth are and what they believe. Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth are the founders of Solid Rock Lectures. Solid Rock Lectures provides resources on “understanding evidence for Old Earth Creation and its Biblical basis.” Their website describes the problem facing the modern church this way:

Young people raised in many churches are told that the Bible teaches a recent six-day earth or evolution is weak. When confronted with the actual evidence in college or later in life, they often experience a crisis of faith. The scientific evidence is so overwhelming, many determine it must be their faith that was mistaken. Questioning non-believers likewise face a monumental obstacle to faith when told that to accept Christ they must reject what seems to be reason itself.

As geologists, the theme of their work seems to be correcting the false (according to them) Young Earth Creationism belief “that the Flood can account for the earth’s complex geology, and that all genuine Christians should accept this viewpoint.” In the essay that Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth wrote for BioLogos, “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology,” they lament the number of people they’ve met who have had their faith shaken when they began to be confronted with the scientific evidence for evolution and millions of years. Their goal in writing is to remove this “stumbling block” to the faith:

It is our conviction that these stories of strained or lost faith derive not from an inherent unwillingness to trust the Bible, but rather from misguided teaching on the message of Scripture. Those insisting the earth is young are not simply putting their faith in God’s Word, they are putting their faith in their own particular interpretation of that Word. As such, an entirely unnecessary stumbling block to faith is created, where faith in Christ first requires rejection of sound science. As we have prayed and studied this subject, we have felt God’s call to speak out against this misplaced stumbling block.

Obviously, Drs. Davidson and Wolgemuth deny that Noah’s flood was global and believe that the earth was formed over millions of years, but their accommodation to naturalistic science goes further. In his book, When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Age of the Earth, Dr. Davidson explains why we should be open to evolution:

Rather than defining evolution as Darwinism, evolution should be defined as the name man has given to the study of what God’s creativity looks like. God does not guide, mimic, prod, or adjust evolution as if it is an independent force that God must rein in. God creates. Evolution is merely the physical, chemical, and biological description of what that creation looks like. (90-91)

Along with accepting evolution as the way God created, Dr. Davidson believes in common descent of man:

If our creative nature is truly a reflection of god’s nature, then it is entirely consistent that God would start with a lump of clay (earth materials), and begin to form and shape life through myriad generations until he arrived at what he was ultimately after. (63)

When Dr. Davidson professes a belief in a literal Adam and Eve, he qualifies it this way:

[I]t is conceivable that the Eve and Adam of scripture are genuinely mitochondrial Eve and her mate, selected by God from a population of hominids and endowed with a soul. (65)

In summary, despite the previous acceptance of a diversity of opinions on the age of the earth and length of creation days, there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent. The BioLogos workshop held in NYC in March concluded with an “urgent desire to bring about change.” It would seem that that same desire for change has reached the PCA.

Clarifying: BioLogos, Michael Ruse, and the Resurrection

**My original post on this subject was not as clear as I would have liked. I have expanded my post to reflect the topic more fully.**

As I have discussed before, BioLogos is dogmatic about evolution, but flexible about everything else. My point is that while BioLogos states that they believe there can be harmony between evolutionary science and Christianity, they believe that the evolutionary science is settled, and therefore the Scriptures must give way. Karl Giberson, formerly Vice President of BioLogos, wrote in an essay for BioLogos:

I am happy to concede that science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.

The problem with allowing “science to trump religious truth” is that eventually all of the central claims of Christianity are subject to being overridden by naturalism. For example, according to naturalism, dead men do not rise from the grave. The most central tenet of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Christ. According to “science,” Christ could not have risen from the dead.

Now, BioLogos believes in the “historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” However, they appear to be more concerned with supporting their claim that evolutionary science and Christianity are compatible than with addressing how various scholars make them compatible.

For example, Michael Ruse has written a series of posts for BioLogos called “Accommodationist and Proud of it.” In the intro for the essay, BioLogos states:

Michael Ruse is an author and philosopher of biology well known for his works on the creationism and evolution debate. Though not a believer in God, he takes the position that Christianity and evolution are not incompatible.

So, even though Ruse is an atheist, what matters here is that he believes that evolution and Christianity are “not incompatible.” What is interesting is how Ruse believes evolution and Christianity are compatible. In his essay for BioLogos, Ruse says:

My first work in this area was Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion, in which I lay out in a fairly standard way what it is to be a Darwinian and then I go through the main claims of Christianity as they might be impacted by the science.

His book, Can a Darwinian be a Christian?, used to be listed as a recommended resource by BioLogos, although the link appears dead now. As he says, he addresses various claims of Christianity in his book. What does he say about the Resurrection?

[T]he supreme miracle of the resurrection is no law-breaking return from the dead. One can think Jesus in a trance, or more likely that he really was physically dead but that on and from the third day, a group of people, hitherto downcast, were filled with great joy and hope (96).

He goes on to say in his BioLogos essay:

What the Christian cannot do is encroach on the domain of science. That is why I offer no hope to the Creationist, because that position does clash with science. (Expectedly, I don’t have any time for those who would alter science to fit with Creationism.)

And then he concludes with:

Am I an Accommodationist? It all depends.

If it means thinking that the Christian religion is true, then I am not. If it means thinking that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a valid way of knowing, and that as such I should not criticize it, then I am not. I think religion is a delusion and that faith is chimerical.

I really do.

However, my form of Accommodationism says that science can only go so far and that after this if religion wants to take over, science as science cannot stop it. You can use other arguments, theological and philosophical, and this I myself would do. But these are not scientific arguments. Note the caveat that my Accommodationism allows only those aspects of religion that do not encroach illicitly on science. So Creationism is ruled out. (emphasis added)

So, BioLogos believes in the Resurrection. Michael Ruse does not. In his essay, Michael Ruse writes in support of BioLogos’ chief purpose which is:

exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.

But this compatibility comes at what cost?

Are Science and Faith at Odds?

Well, it may depend on what you mean by science. One of the most common complaints about creationists is that to believe in a literal Adam and Eve and a literal 6 day creation mean that one must be anti-science. But that’s just absurd. I have no argument with science. Obviously, I use computers, and I highly approve of epidurals. I just don’t believe that evolution is how God created life.

I read the following definitions of science and origins that help explain the difference between observational science and historical science (the study of origins):

The Nature of Science and of Scientific Theories

Science is our attempt to observe, understand, and explain the operation of the universe and of the living things it contains. Since a scientific theory, by definition, must be testable by repeatable observations and must be capable of being falsified if indeed it were false, a scientific theory can only attempt to explain processes and events that are presently occurring repeatedly within our observations. Theories about history, although interesting and often fruitful, are not scientific theories, even though they may be related to other theories which do fulfill the criteria of a scientific theory.

The Nature of Theories on Origins

On the other hand, the theory of creation and the theory of evolution are attempts to explain the origin of the universe and of its inhabitants. There were no human observers to the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or, as a matter of fact, to the origin of a single type of living organism. These events were unique historical events which have occurred only once. Thus, no one has ever seen anything created, nor has anyone ever seen a fish evolve into an amphibian nor an ape evolve into man. The changes we see occurring today are mere fluctuations in populations which result neither in an increase in complexity nor significant change. Therefore, neither creation nor evolution is a scientific theory. Creation and evolution are inferences based on circumstantial evidence.

Thus the notion that evolution is a scientific theory while creation is nothing more than religious mysticism is blatantly false.

Did Ken Ham Misrepresent Tim Keller on Genesis 1 and 2?

A couple of weeks ago, Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis, wrote a blog post accusing Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer NYC, of misrepresenting the views of young-earth creationists. In one of Dr. Keller’s articles for the BioLogos Foundation, he says:

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

Ken Ham believes that his own views have been misrepresented in that he does not believe that, “If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.”

You can read the rest of Ken Ham’s post at the above link.

Today, a PCA pastor, David Wallover, has written an article in response to Ken Ham’s post in which he accuses Ken Ham of having misrepresented Dr. Keller’s teaching on the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2. For reference, Ken Ham wrote the following:

Pastor Keller is quoted as saying that he takes Genesis 2 literally, but not Genesis 1. In a teaching session on Genesis 1 and 2, Keller claims that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict one another and says that Christians can do either of the following: they can believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and an “idiotic editor” put them together in the Bible, or Christians can adopt his perspective that Genesis 1 is a poem, while Genesis 2 is historical.

Ken Ham gave a link for the teaching session.

Pastor Wallover wrote that Ken Ham’s summary misrepresents what Dr. Keller said in his teaching session:

Now, did Keller misrepresent Ham? He may well have; I do not know, not being privy to the entire discussion. Even after reading the remainder of the article, I am not entirely willing to give Ham the benefit of the doubt as to the accuracy of his summary of Keller’s statements about Ham, given Ham’s inaccurate summary of Keller’s position at the outset.

So, I decided to listen to the talk by Dr. Keller and decide for myself if Ken Ham’s summary was accurate or not. Here is a transcription of the relevant portion of the talk (beginning at 3:54):

In Genesis 2, it’s very clear that God followed a natural order. There’s a place where it says that there was no vegetation yet because it hadn’t rained yet. There’s a place in Genesis 2. I read a whole article from our old, Old Testament professor, Meredith Kline, years ago, I read an article on Genesis 2:4, “Because It Had Not Rained,” or maybe it’s 2:6. And Meredith Kline asked the question, he says, if Genesis 2 says that you had to have rain before you had vegetation, but if you go back to Genesis 1 you have vegetation before you have the sun and the moon, therefore, before you have weather. You have day 3 which means you have vegetation but day 4 you don’t have weather yet. If Genesis 2 says that God did things in a natural order, that He didn’t do vegetation until there was rain, but in Genesis 1 we have vegetation before there was rain, then you actually have this choice before you. You can either believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and that we can’t trust the Bible. Alright? That somebody wrote Genesis 2, and somebody wrote Genesis 1, and some idiotic editor just slapped them together. And they totally contradict each other and that’s the way the Bible is. It’s just this compendium, right? Or you can believe that Genesis 2 is historical reporting and Genesis 1 is a poem. That’s your only two. This is one of the reasons that I do not believe that Genesis 1 can be taken literally. Because if you take it literally then you have a Bible that contradicts itself. Because the order in which God makes things in Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Now critical scholars have have all along have always said sure that’s because the Bible is just plopped together by different people, it’s a bunch of different legends, sort of like a compendium of myths. But if you believe that the Bible is true then you have to believe that they’re two different literary genres. You have to. And that’s one of the reasons I do not take every part of Genesis 1 literally is because if I do it undermines the authority of the Bible. … (6:35) Genesis 2 is historical reporting and it contradicts Genesis 1 unless Genesis 1 is a song.

Did Ken Ham misrepresent Dr. Keller’s teaching on Genesis 1 and 2? I’m not so sure.

Death Before the Fall

When one moves away from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, there are a number of theological questions that have to be answered. How long is a “day” of creation? Were Adam and Eve actual, historical persons? Were they the very first man and woman? Did God create them de novo, or did He adopt a couple of hominids whose bodies were the result of evolution?

These last three questions have been the subject of much debate in recent days. But there is another question that should be addressed: Was there death before the Fall? To be honest, this is not a question that had occurred to me until recently. For most young-earth creationists, the easy answer is “no.” However, for many Christians who believe in an old earth and long ages, it’s a valid question.

If there were long ages of time, millions and millions of years (at least), there must have been death of some kind. If animals and humans are the result of evolution and natural selection (even God directed), then death is a necessary part of that. How do you reconcile what Scripture teaches about the origin of death with the necessity of death as part of the process of creation? Here are a selection of quotes from several scholars on how they answer the question of death before the Fall:

God’s estimation that it is “good” does not mean that it is consummately perfect; both surd and moral evil are already in existence. One can infer that prior to the Fall, decay existed in the flora because humans and animals were to eat it (Gen. 1:29-30), and wild animals (carnivores) that kill prey were also present among the species of fauna (1:30; 2:19). the biblical text represents the human, not the animal, realm as punished with death through Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5;12-19). The analogy between Adam and Christ also pertains to the human, not the animal, realm: as Adam brought death to all humanity, Christ brings life to all believers, not to animals. Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 184

If we think that animal death would be a blot on the goodness of creation, we’re out of step with Psalm 104. But we have no reason to believe that the Bible teaches that no animal died before the fall. Remember, as we saw in the last chapter that Genesis 2:17 (“for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”) was spoken directly to Adam: its “you” is singular. Then when Eve shows that she considers herself under the same threat (3:3), the “you” is plural – but it refers still to the human couple, not to anyone else. When we further remember just what this “death” is – spiritual death, alienation from God – we see as well that this penalty is for man (though it may have effects on the beasts, as we’ll see later.) Jack Collins, Science and Faith, 156

[W]e have no biblical warrant for arguing that animal death was the result of man’s fall, or that no animal ate another before then. This means that there is no theological objection to the possibility that fossils are the remains of animals that died before Adam was even created.

Along these lines, we can say that animal death is not part of the problem of evil. Not even when some kind of animal goes extinct is it really an evil – so long as it came from nature doing its own thing and not from humans’ sinful exploitation of the world. That means that when people try to argue for a young earth by saying that an old earth involves evil (especially animals dying), or when others argue against believing in God at all in view of “nature red in tooth and claw,” they are making a theological mistake. Jack Collins, Science and Faith, 162

But there is another question that looms over the others. In this model, how could there have
been suffering and death before the fall? Some answer may be in the second verse of the Bible, where we are told that ‘the earth was without form’ and was filled with darkness and chaos. Most traditional interpreters believe that God initially made the world in this ‘formless’ state and then proceeded to subdue the disorder through the creative process of separation, elaboration, and development depicted in Genesis 1.

However, even this traditional interpretation means that there was not perfect order and peace in creation from the first moment. Also, Satan seems to have been present in the world before the Fall. What makes us think that Satan and demons were not in the world before the moment the serpent appears? One of the biggest unanswered (and unanswerable) theological
questions is—what was Satan doing there? By definition, if Satan was somewhere in the world, it was not all a perfect place.

Traditional theology has never believed that humanity and the world in Genesis 2-3 was in a
glorified, perfect state. Augustine taught that Adam and Eve were posse non peccare (able not to sin) but they fell into the state of non posse non peccare (not able not to sin). In our final state of full salvation, however, we will be non posse peccare (not capable of sinning.) Eden was not the
consummated world of the future. Some have pointed out that in the Garden of Eden that there would have had to be some kind of death and decay or fruit would not have been edible. Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” 11-12

In the standard picture of biological evolution embraced by BioLogos there exists insurmountable evidence of death before the Fall. Humans appear very late in the history of life, so the fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. In fact, compelling evidence exists that many entire species had already become extinct. Dinosaurs are the most famous example, but there are thousands of others. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, and not animals, should die. Therefore, the animal death that BioLogos acknowledges is entirely compatible with Christian doctrine. It can even be argued that Adam must have been familiar with the reality of animal death, or he would not have understood God’s warning. Granting that animal death before the Fall is consistent with Christian doctrine, we consider the question of human death before the Fall.

One interpretation contends Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death as a result of their disobedience. The physical death of humans is thus not a result of the Fall and could therefore have occurred beforehand. …

In this way we might distinguish between Homo sapiens and the image-bearing creatures that we might call Homo divinus. While Homo sapiens might have a similar body structure or physical capabilities of Homo divinus, the latter exists in God’s image.

With this critically important distinction, BioLogos is thus compatible with the belief that part of Adam’s curse was the onset of physical death for the human race, because the human race in the full Imago Dei really began with Adam. Although many human-like creatures lived and died before the Fall, these Homo sapiens did not yet bear the image of God. After the bestowal of God’s image, there was no death of Homo divinus until after the Fall. As soon as image-bearing humanity fully emerged through God’s creative process of evolution, no member of that species experienced death until after the Fall. Peter Enns, BioLogos Foundation

Some might object that if the material phase had been carried out for long ages prior to the seven days of Genesis, there would be a problem about death. Romans 5:12 states unequivocally, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Interpreters have inferred from this verse that there was no death at any level prior to the Fall, the entrance of sin. But we should notice that the verse does not say that. Paul is talking about how death came to people – why all of humanity is subject to death. Just because death came to us because of sin, does not mean that death did not exist at any level prior to the Fall. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 99

Modern science has amply demonstrated that phenomena such as predation, death, and the extinction of the species have been intrinsic and even necessary aspects of life on earth for billions of years, long before the arrival of Homo sapiens. …

Recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics indicates that the species Homo sapiens cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, and that the earliest human beings did not come on the scene in anything like paradisal physical or moral conditions. It is therefore difficult to read Genesis 1-3 as a factual account of human origins. …

We must trust that God created the kind of world that he did because an evolutionary process involving selfishness, suffering, and death was the only way to bring about such creaturely values as novelty, complexity, and freedom. Daniel Harlow, “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, volume 62, number 3 (Sept. 2010), 179-193

For it seems, on this science, that not just natural evils, such as animal suffering and violent episodes in nature, but also the disposition for human moral evils, are practically part of God’s original design. …

One part of this conflict between evolutionary science and the Christian doctrine of a historical Fall is old hat by now, and the new genomic science merely intensifies the problem at a microgenetic level. It is that Genesis and premodern Christian tradition attribute quite a list of unpleasant and peculiar things in nature to the occurrence of a historical Fall of human beings. The trouble is that paleoscience overwhelmingly proves that labor pains, the locomotion of snakes, predation, deadly diseases, mass extinction, thorn plants and weeds, and violent natural events existed for millennia before the existence of the first humans. Thus, they cannot be the consequence of a “curse” that God placed on the creation as punishment for human sin. John Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An ‘Aesthetic Supralapsarianism'”

The Evolution of Adam: Moses, Paul, and Enns- Just Men of their Times

Many Christians debate how best to interpret the creation account in Genesis. Was it 6 literal days that took place about 6,000 years ago? Was it allegorical days a long time ago? Did God direct the process of evolution to bring about the diversity of animal life we see today? Did Adam and Eve really exist? All of these are questions that have been the source of numerous books and articles in recent years.

While there are a great variety of answers to these questions, most conservative Christians believe that Adam must be an historical figure of some kind. The source of their belief is that regardless of how one interprets Genesis, the New Testament teaches that Adam was the first man and the reason we are all born with original sin. In his book, The Evolution of Adam:What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, Dr. Peter Enns disagrees. Or rather, he accepts that Paul believed Adam was the literal first man, but he doesn’t believe that this means that all Christians must believe it too.

Dr. Enns’ book sets out to explain what the Bible teaches about human origins. Since the Bible and evolutionary science explain human origins so differently, Dr. Enns’ goal in writing is to demonstrate that a synthesis between Christianity and evolution is possible and desirable (10). He believes that “[a] healthy theology is one that shows a willingness – even an expectation – to revisit ways of thinking and changing them when need be” (13). Dr. Enns explains his purpose this way:

I am arguing that our understanding of Adam has evolved over the years and that it must now be adjusted in light of the preponderance of (1) scientific evidence supporting evolution and (2) literary evidence from the world of the Bible that helps clarify the kind of literature the Bible is – that is, what it means to read it as it was meant to be read (13).

In looking at the various ways people have attempted to handle the differences between Christianity and evolution, Dr. Enns lays out four options:

  1. Accept evolution and reject Christianity.
  2. Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.
  3. Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair (or group) at some point in the evolutionary process.
  4. Rethink Genesis and Paul (18).

He then begins to explain why he believes that only the last option is a viable one. He believes that it is important to: “reevaluate what we have the right to expect from Genesis and Paul” (18) because “[u]nless one simply rejects scientific evidence (as some continue to do), adjustments to the biblical story are always necessary. The only question is what sorts of adjustments best account for the data” (15). Dr. Enns explains that “[d]eep Christian commitments lead one to read Paul and Genesis with utmost seriousness, but scientific sensibilities do not allow one to dismiss evolution” (17).

Most importantly, Dr. Enns maintains that:

[Paul’s] use of the Adam story, however, cannot and should not be the determining factor in whether biblically faithful Christians can accept evolution as the scientific account of human origins – and the gospel does not hang in the balance (20).

The Evolution of Adam is divided into two parts. Part one focuses on Genesis and part two on Paul. In part one, Dr. Enns makes three main points. First, the majority of the Old Testament was written after the Babylonian exile. Second, Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch were not written as history, but instead as a polemic against the surrounding cultures in an act of self-definition by the postexilic Israelites. Third, the story of Adam is therefore best understood as proto-Israel and was not meant in any way to be a story of universal origins. Continue reading