No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement

How you interpret Genesis 1-3 is about more than just the length of the creation days. What you believe about how the world began has ripple effects throughout Scripture. If Genesis 1 and 2 are metaphorical or allegorical and not meant to be understood literally, then that affects many other parts of Scripture. For example, was there an actual couple, Adam and Eve, from whom all humanity are descended? How were they created? Were they created perfect and without sin? Did they sin and fall from that perfection? Was there death before the Fall?

Some Christians who believe in theistic evolution work hard to show that their views on the origin of the world and mankind do not mean abandoning a belief in Adam and original sin. For some Adam was a de novo creation, for others he was a hominid adopted by God and given a soul, and for another group Adam is merely a metaphorical figure who represents the origin of man and sin.

The problem with these attempts to reconcile evolutionary teachings on the origins of man with the Bible is that for each “conflict” they solve more difficulties are created down the line. Many Young Earth Creationists (YEC) are belittled for being concerned about the dangers of the “slippery slope” that starts with accepting evolution. However, there is a very real problem with how to interpret Scriptures dealing with Adam, the Fall, sin, etc. And many theistic evolutionists agree.

BioLogos, a foundation that exists to promote theistic evolution, regularly runs articles from various scholars on how to reinterpret these issues and how to reconcile them with evolutionary teachings. The latest series discusses the doctrine of the atonement. BioLogos wants Christians to believe there is a rich history of differing opinions on the atonement. In fact, they want you to believe that there is no one accepted position:

The work of Christ must be understood as a response to the reality and universal extent of sin among human beings. And, of course, our understanding of the nature of sin is affected by different models of human origins. Many theologians think that the substitutionary model of atonement requires something like the Augustinian view of the Fall. But there are other models of atonement, and other models of the Fall. Substitutionary atonement is questioned these days on grounds other than evolutionary understandings of human origins, but many evolutionary creationists have added their voices to those concerns.

The atonement is one of the easiest examples to give for there being considerable theological diversity in the church over these 2000 years. From christus victor and fishhook theories, to penal substitution and moral exemplar theories, we can’t say there is one doctrine of the atonement that has stood the test of time.

This is disturbing to say the least. While it’s true that there are various other “models,” none are Biblical. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is, and has been, the one orthodox position. Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins. That’s the gospel. This is clear in a number of passages:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV)

But substitutionary atonement is dependent on Adam and the Fall and original sin. If evolutionary views on origins move one away from these doctrines, then the atonement needs to be reworked too.

The first attempt to do so in BioLogos’ new series is by Dr. Joseph Bankard, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. In part 1 of his essay, Dr. Bankard explains that he was raised to believe in substitutionary atonement, but after he accepted evolutionary views on origins, he decided to rethink the atonement. He was particularly bothered by two aspects:

From my perspective, Substitutionary Atonement creates two potential problems for Christian theology. It seems that if substitutionary atonement is true, then God is either severely limited in power or unnecessarily cruel. If the only way God can forgive or reconcile is through blood and sacrifice, then God’s power is limited. Why is sacrifice the only way God can forgive? If God is all powerful, then there should be a number of ways to reestablish right relationship with humanity. If God can’t forgive without blood and sacrifice, then God is limited in power.

On the other hand, if God can forgive humanity in many ways and simply chooses to use blood as God’s means of forgiveness, then God seems unnecessarily cruel. Why would God will the torture, humiliation, and death of his son, if there were other ways to redeem humanity? One could even argue, as Gregory Love does in his book Love, Violence, and the Cross, that substitutionary atonement makes God look like an abusive father.

Dr. Bankard doesn’t believe that substititonary atonement is consistent with God as revealed in Jesus. He also doesn’t believe that it fits well with evolutionary theory:

First, what happens to the doctrine of the Fall of humanity in light of evolution? If evolution is true, then the universe is very old, humans evolved from primates, and the historical accuracy (but not the truth) of the Genesis narratives is called into question. Because of this, many who support a version of theistic evolution argue for a metaphorical or allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1-3.[4] In this view, the Fall is not a historical event.

And,

However, if denying the historical Fall calls into question the doctrine of original sin, then it also calls into question the role of the cross of Christ within substitutionary atonement. If Jesus didn’t die in order to overcome humanity’s original sin, then why did Jesus die? What is Jesus, the second Adam, attempting to restore with the cross, if not the sin of the first Adam?

So, according to Dr. Bankard, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement.

In part 2 of his essay, Dr. Bankard attempts to answer why Jesus died if not to “save His people from their sins.” He believes that instead of Jesus’ death, we should focus on the incarnation:

Jesus doesn’t become human to die. Jesus takes on flesh and bone to show us how to really live, how to be fully human.

And,

First, the incarnation is not primarily about the cross. God does not send Jesus to die. God does not require Jesus’ death in order to forgive humanity’s sin. As a result, God is not motivated by retribution or righteous anger. Instead, the incarnation is motivated by love.

So, Jesus came to show us how to be fully human. He is then our example. But if so, then why did He die?

I argue that God did not will the cross. An angry crowd, a prideful group of the religious elite, and a cowardly Roman prefect, put a perfectly innocent man to death. They willed the cross. And I believe this act is an example of sin. But God is holy, loving, and just. Thus, God cannot will or condone sin. Instead, I argue that the incarnation is about life, revelation, and inspiration—not death. I believe that God knew Jesus would be killed. That’s what happens when the kingdom of God collides with the kingdom of this world. But Christ’s death was not part of God’s divine plan.

Dr. Bankard believes that Jesus died because bad men killed Him, but that it was not part of God’s plan. I’m not sure why he finds this lack of God’s sovereignty and power to be a more comfortable position. He goes on to explain that God’s love is the heart of the atonement:

God promises to absorb violence and death and replace it with reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. This revelation, this vision, is the reason for the incarnation. It is the power behind the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it is the method and the means of our atonement and ultimate salvation.

So, all we need is love. All we need is love. All we need is love, love. Love is all we need … . (My apologies to the Beatles, and their fans.)

I believe that Dr. Bankard is correct that God’s love was the impetus behind the whole plan of redemption. John 3 is pretty clear on that:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16 ESV)

But God’s love for us doesn’t change the fact that Jesus came to die for our sins. Both are true. God loves us, therefore Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for our sins. As Romans 3 says:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22-26 ESV)

He is just and the justifier. God is love, but leaving us in our sins would not have been love.

Dr. Bankard closes with explaining again why his view of the atonement is preferable:

This view of the atonement is important for several reasons. First, it doesn’t require, though would be compatible with, a historical Adam and Eve and a traditional view of original sin. The substitutionary view argues that Jesus’ death redeems the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden. To adopt this view, one must read Genesis 1-3 more literally. At times, this kind of biblical hermeneutic may run counter to evolutionary theory. The view sketched above does not require a historical Adam and Eve or a traditional concept of original sin, making it more compatible with evolution. Additionally, my view of atonement argues that Christ’s death was not part of God’s plan. This helps preserve God’s power (God can forgive in many ways, he doesn’t require blood) and God’s goodness (God doesn’t will the cross).

Dr. Bankard’s understanding of the atonement is certainly easier to reconcile with evolutionary theory. But that seems to be the wrong way to go about interpretation. Reading Scripture so that it fits within your own paradigm is eisogesis, reading into the text. When you start with the view that evolution is correct and then decided how to read Scripture so that it fits with evolution, you will end up doing some interesting hermeneutical gymnastics.

No creation, no Adam, no Fall, no original sin, no substitutionary atonement, no Christ? How far do we go to accommodate what evolutionary science says is and isn’t possible? It really does come down to “Did God really say?”

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)

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)

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?

What is a Stumbling Block?

In many of the current discussions among Christians, I’ve heard it said that we should be careful not to be “stumbling blocks” to unbelievers. This is especially true in the origins debate. Many professing Christians that hold to evolution are concerned that Creationism, particularly the Young Earth variety, is a “stumbling block” for young people coming to the faith. This use of “stumbling block” made me curious about how Scripture uses the phrase. So, I did a search of my ESV bible and found the phrase used in three ways.

First, in the Old Testament prophets, the stumbling block is used to describe the sin of the people who have rejected God:

For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the LORD will answer him myself. Ezekiel 14:7

Or, it is something used by God as a punishment for sin:

Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will lay before this people stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble; fathers and sons together, neighbor and friend shall perish.’” Jeremiah 6:21

Second, in the New Testament, believers are warned about allowing their freedom to become a stumbling block to other believers, causing their brothers to sin:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:13-17

Lastly, also in the New Testament, Christ himself is described as a stumbling block:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

What was interesting to me in this study, albeit not an exhaustive one, is that the current preoccupation with making Christianity as unoffensive as possible isn’t a concern found in Scripture. Of course, we are commanded to be at peace with everyone as far as it is possible, and we should not be intentionally offensive to unbelievers. But I don’t believe we should soften the truth or reinterpret what Scripture teaches in order to accommodate those outside the household of faith.

“There are always alternative answers”

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). His talk, “Not Enough Time,” is designed to answer challenges from evolutionary science on the age and origins of the earth. He laid out a three-part framework that he believes should be used whenever evaluating evidence in the origins debate. He pointed out that in the origins debate the question really is one of forensics. Since we can’t repeat events of the past and science is limited to the study of the present, then what we have in the question of origins is a forensic question: What does the evidence say happened? The evidence we have is the same no matter which side you are on in this debate. Each side is attempting to piece together what happened using the evidence at hand. Because forensics uses both evidence and eyewitness accounts, we should remember that the Bible, and Genesis in particular, should be considered eyewitness evidence. In considering the evidence, we should remember that there are always alternative answers to the ones given by evolutionary science.

Here are the three parts to Dr. Jeanson’s framework:

  1. Bible first
  2. Big effects
  3. Bounds of science

The first thing we should consider is what does the Bible say? Second, what physical effects do we expect to find based on what the Bible says? Third, what are the bounds of science, i.e. what assumptions are made on the part of evolutionary science in explaining the evidence?

Having laid out his framework, Dr. Jeanson then uses it to address three questions from the origins debate: what is the origin of the earth, what is the origin of the earth’s surface, and what is the origin of the fossil record.

First, what is origin of the earth? Evolutionary science, and Old Earth Creationists, believe that the earth is billions of years old. According to Dr. Jeanson, in considering what the Bible says first, the Bible teaches that the earth was created in 6 days 6,000- 10,000 years ago. The Big Bang theory, one of the most commonly accepted evolutionary origins for the earth, disagrees with the Biblical account of creation in the amount of time it took (thousands vs. billions of years), in the order of creation (earth before sun and stars vs. sun and stars before earth), and in the mechanism of creation (God spoke vs. evolution).
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PCA Seminar Speaker: No Difference Between Adam Specially Created from the Dust and a Hominid Adopted by God and Given a Soul

This morning at the 40th General Assembly of the PCA, Dr. Gregg Davidson gave a seminar on the age of the earth. Thanks to a couple of my friends who were able to be there, I have had the opportunity to listen to what Dr. Davidson had to say. According to some who were there, the seminar was full, and Dr. Davidson seemed a little nervous.

Dr. Ligon Duncan opened the session by discussing the Creation Study Report and the boundaries that were set in that report. While the report allows for a diversity of opinions on the meaning of the creation days, some issues, like the special and direct creation of Adam, are considered of “vital importance to our Reformed testimony.”

After this introduction, Dr. Davidson began by explaining that Dr. Ken Wolgemuth was not able to attend because he had been called away by his job to Saudi Arabia. Dr. Davidson laughed and said that Dr. Wolgemuth’s schedule changed before the issue of the seminar “went nuclear” on the blogosphere. He went on to promise that nothing that he said would be outside the boundaries set by the Creation Study Report. He also reminded everyone that the scope of the seminar was the age of the earth and not evolution. Anyone who was interested in his views on evolution were directed to his book, When Faith and Science Collide.

Before Dr. Davidson got into explaining the scientific evidence for an old earth, he took a few minutes to lay out his own Christian beliefs, including the inerrancy of Scripture and the death and resurrection of Christ. He was careful to emphasize his belief in an historical Adam and Eve and the doctrine of original sin.

The majority of his presentation was very similar to the material that he lays out in his book. He stated his belief that science can be useful in deciding between two plausible interpretations of Scripture. He gave the example of Galileo and whether the sun orbits the earth or the earth orbits the sun. This was an example of a time that the increasing evidence of science helped to show which interpretation of Scripture was best.

Dr. Davidson explained that his purpose in the seminar was to equip the pastors and elders so that they can better minister to their congregations. According to Dr. Davidson, there are many in the church who are taught that the evidence for an old earth is weak and that to be faithful to Christ one must hold to a young earth. This can become a stumbling block to the faith for many, especially young believers, who grow up and are then challenged when they discover that the evidence for an old earth is very strong. The evidence that Dr. Davidson presented in the seminar is designed to help prevent this potential crisis of faith.

In the same way as he does in his book, Dr. Davidson then addressed the problems that he sees in reading Genesis 1 and 2 in a straight-forward, literal way. These problems include the apparent differences in the two chapters on the order of creation and the problems with having light before the sun. Dr. Davidson used the parable of the mustard seed to give an example of a passage of Scripture that is completely true even though the statements about nature are not. Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest seed and that seeds have to die. According to Dr. Davidson, this is not technically accurate as there are many seeds smaller than the mustard seed and that seeds don’t actually die when they germinate. Using this passage, Dr. Davidson explained that Genesis 1 and 2 are best understood as completely true, but not as scientifically accurate statements.

Dr. Davidson then explained a handful of scientific evidences for an old earth. All were pretty straight forward and clearly outlined. He also explained why the most common Young Earth Creationist interpretations do not fit the evidence. In closing, he explained that his intention was not to change Young Earth Creationists into Old Earth Creationists. His desire was to have those who hold to a young earth at least understand that those who hold to an old earth do so for plausible reasons. He repeated his desire to remove a stumbling block to the faith that requires a belief in a young earth.

The audience was allowed to submit questions for Dr. Davidson to answer. The questions were challenging ones both scientifically and theologically. The most interesting questions were the last two. First, Dr. Davidson was asked about his belief in an historical Adam. The question asked if he believed Adam was specially and directly created by God from the dust or if Adam was a hominid adopted by God. Before answering, Dr. Davidson said that he hoped his answer to this question would not cause people to write off the evidence he had given in the seminar. His answer was that he doesn’t see a difference between Adam specially created by God from the dust and Adam as a hominid adopted by God and given a soul. Either way, according to him, Adam is the first human and the father of mankind. He pointed out that the wording of Genesis is that Adam was created by God from the dust of the earth and that science would say that Adam was created from the dust of the earth.

The last question asked was whether or not the session at Dr. Davidson’s church allows him to teach old earth. Dr. Davidson said that he is not currently under discipline and that he has never asked or been asked to teach on the subject.

When Faith and Science Collide: A Review of Dr. Gregg Davidson’s Book

At the PCA’s upcoming General Assembly, Dr. Gregg Davidson and Dr. Ken Wolgemuth of Solid Rock Lectures will be giving a seminar on what the science has to say on the age of the earth, “The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?” Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth are particularly concerned that relying on Young Earth Creationism has led to the acceptance of bad science and bad theology in our denomination. They are especially concerned about the negative impact denying the scientific consensus will have on our witness.

Questions were raised about whether or not Dr. Davidson and Dr. Wolgemuth were just interested in the age of the earth, or if they are also proponents of evolution. Some quotes from the Solid Rock Lectures seem to indicate that this is likely, but many were hesitant to be to quick to judge. In doing some research, I discovered that Dr. Davidson, a member and teacher of a PCA church in Mississippi, has written a book on how to reconcile evolutionary science and Christianity.

Dr. Davidson’s book, When Faith and Science Collide: A Biblical Approach to Evaluating Evolution and the Age of the Earth (Oxford, MS: Malius Press, 2009)Q, was written to give “a simple three-step approach for examining scripture and science any time the two appear to clash” (back cover). According to the back cover:

The approach honors scripture first, and addresses the strength of scientific evidence only after satisfying scriptural constraints. When applied to evolution and the age of the earth, the result reveals far more harmony than discord (back cover).

So from the cover of the book, it appears that Dr. Davidson sees “far more harmony than discord” between evolution and Christianity.

Dr. Davidson opens the book with the story of Carl the Scientist. Carl is not a believer but is curious about the Bible and faith. In the course of his research into the Bible he talks with Doug the Young Earth Creationist (YEC). Doug tells him that Genesis must be a literal account of creation and shares a YEC book with him that refutes evolution. Carl is dismayed by the bad science utilized by the YEC proponents. He decides that the god of Christianity must not be a god of truth (11-12).

Dr. Davidson goes on to explain the core thesis of his book:

It is my conviction that much of the clash between the Bible and modern science is not only unnecessary, but harmful to the cause of Christ (13).

As for his own beliefs, Dr. Davidson professes a belief in the Bible as the inspired, inerrant, authoritative word of God and also in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, and original sin (14). He also believes that:

The study of God’s natural creation, by virtue of its reflection of its Creator, will occasionally prove useful in discerning the best interpretation of scripture when more than one interpretation is plausible (14).

So, in the most obvious example, science can help us determine which interpretation of Genesis and the creation week is the most plausible. Dr. Davidson gives a hint here as to which interpretation he prefers:

It is my conviction that good science and good theology will never rest permanently at odds with one another. Apparent contradictions may arise, but ultimately God’s natural revelation (the material universe) will be found in agreement with his special revelation (scripture). There is a growing body of people who share this conviction who have been convinced that the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth is unassailable (14).

Dr. Davidson next lays out his framework for evaluating science and Scripture. Each apparent conflict should be examined using three basic questions:

Question 1: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?
Question 2: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?
Question 3: Is the science credible? (22-23)

He spends some time, then, considering whether or not Genesis 1 and 2 must be taken literally. His answer is “no,” based on several problems he sees in the text itself (40-41). For example, Genesis 1 says that God created in six days, but Genesis 2:4 says “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” So, if we read Genesis literally we must believe simultaneously that God created everything in six days and also in just one day (40).

He also mentions some apparent inconsistencies in the order of creation given in Genesis 1 and 2: Genesis 1 says animals were created before man, but Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created before the animals. And, how can there be light on Day 1 before the sun is created on Day 4?

For those that suggest that God was the source of the light before the sun, Dr. Davidson says:

This is not a defensible argument, however, for it requires that God was dark prior to Day 1, and not omnipresent thereafter. Morning and evening without a sun would only be possible if God first turned himself on, and then fixed his position on one side of the earth(42).

Dr. Davidson seems to be unaware of the Biblical scholars who have written on these issues since well before Darwin and evolution appeared on the scene. John Calvin addresses the issue of light before the sun in his commentary on Genesis:

It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light. And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very first order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.

Dr. Davidson also suggests that to hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is to believe that since God finished creating on Day 6, then God cannot be the one who causes the Himalayas to grow or babies to grow in their mothers’ wombs:

Adherence to a literal interpretation of Genesis 2:2 requires that God is not the author of these events [land formed by lava spills in Hawaii and growth in height of Himalayas] since he has rested from his creative efforts. Indeed, even you and I are not to be considered his creative handiwork (43).

If God finished creating on Day 6, then he also can’t be the one who made thorns and thistles appear after the Fall, by Dr. Davidson’s reasoning. Although, he offers a possible solution to this problem. Thorns and thistles must have existed outside of the Garden of Eden:

The Garden was a place of protection from an apparently less desirable existence outside. This is evident from the fact that the Garden had boundaries (why boundaries if all the earth was perfect for human habitation?), and an angel was placed at the entrance after the curse to ensure they would not reenter (Gen 3:24). If thorns and thistles already existed outside the Garden, man was blessed with their absence until cast out. The curse was not the creation of thorns, but the exposure to thorns (44-45).

Dr. Davidson concludes by answering his first question: Does the infallibility of scripture rest on a literal interpretation of the verses in question?

[O]ne cannot reasonably maintain a strict literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 and hold to an infallible view of scripture. The use of seven days in the creation account must be interpreted in a manner similar to the interpretation of the three sets of 14 generations in Matthew. A central message is conveyed through the identification of real people or events, and is illustrated with a memory tool where creation is divided into six days of work and ending in rest (46).

Having concluded that the infallibility of scripture is best supported by a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, Dr. Davidson moves on to address his second question: Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture? This is not about the credibility of the scientific claims, but rather whether “current scientific understanding fits or clashes with scripture’s intended meaning” (51).

Each scientific claim is compared with relevant Scripture verses and then a synthesis is suggested. Dr. Davidson starts with the origin of the universe. The Bible teaches that God created everything from nothing. Standard cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe, teaches that before the “Big Bang,” the pre-universe condition was a void. The synthesis, according to Dr. Davidson, is that standard cosmology is “remarkably Biblical” (53). There was nothing, and then there was something.

What about the origin of life? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that God commanded the earth to bring forth life (Gen 1:12, 24). Science teaches that “life began on earth roughly 3.5 billion years ago” (54). While scientists aren’t sure exactly how this happened, they are certain that the non-living material on the earth gave rise to life in process that took billions of years and gradually moved from single cell organisms to humans (56). Dr. Davidson believes that there is an easy synthesis here:

According to Genesis, God commanded the earth to give rise to life. According to science, the earth gave rise to life. The parallel statements of creation are remarkable … (57).

Moving on to the origin of man, it might seem more difficult to achieve a reasonable synthesis between Scripture and evolutionary scientific claims, but Dr. Davidson sees no material conflict:

Materially, the Biblical account of man’s creation is no different from the creation of other life on earth. To create all life prior to man, God “commanded the earth to bring forth.” To create Adam, God “formed man from the dust of the ground.” According to scientific accounts, man was formed from the same earth-dust as all other creatures (61).

To those who find a conflict in the evolutionary scientific claim that man evolved from the apes, Dr. Davidson suggests first, that maybe we have an “inflated sense of self-worth:

Our first reaction may be that man is not like the animals. Man is unique and must have been specially created even if nothing else was. The concept that man might share a common origin with other life forms is an affront to our dignity and sense of value. One must ask, however, if the indignation comes from an understanding of Biblical truth, or simply from an inflated sense of self worth (62).

And second, that maybe we don’t understand God’s character:

But would God really create in such a prolonged manner, making small changes from one generation to the next and spinning off myriads of life forms, many destined for extinction? Is this consistent with God’s character? … 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. This in no way suggests that all forms prior to man were mistakes or castoffs (62-63).

Referencing God’s selection of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, Dr. Davidson sees no problem with the theory that Adam was simply one hominid out of many that God selected to be the first human:

The idea of God choosing one individual out of many is also consistent with what scripture tells us of God’s character. … It is thus at least within God’s character to chose one hominid from among many to endow with a soul and initiate the human race. …

[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 (63-64,65).

Dr. Davidson next considers death and the Fall. Evolutionary science teaches that death and decay must have existed from the very beginning of time. What does the Bible teach? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that spiritual death came as a result of Adam’s fall (68), but that physical death could have existed from the start outside of the Garden:

It makes more sense that material death existed from the start, but initially outside of man’s experience. … [T]he description of Adam and Eve’s stay and eviction from the Garden of Eden suggests that life outside the Garden had always been more harsh than life inside. … Thorns, thistles, and material death may have always existed beyond the Garden’s borders (70).

He also believes that creation was not necessarily without death and pain from the start:

Romans 8 does not say that the creation was subjected to futility by sin, but by God, perhaps from the very start of creation. The implication is not that God created the world flawed, but that it was created, from the very start, with a yearning to see the Messiah (emphasis original, 68).

And,

The idea that heaven is a return to creation as it was prior to sin is a human concept, not an undisputed scriptural concept. If Isaiah says the wolf and lion will eat grass and straw in heaven, it does not necessarily follow that they did so at the start of creation (69).

And he warns that:

It is presumptuous to dismiss material death before sin with the claim that God would not call such a world “good.” God’s ways are not our ways (71).

One of the common objections to a literal interpretation of Genesis comes when considering Cain. Who was Cain afraid of if there were only a few people around? According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible teaches that Cain was only one of three humans in existence after the death of Abel (76). Science teaches that there were other non-human hominids, Neanderthals, around during the first days of mankind (76). Dr. Davidson speculates that Neanderthals might be what Cain was afraid of, and that Neanderthals might also be the “sons of God” who intermarried with the “daughters of men” and gave rise to the Nephilim (79):

If it is unsettling to think of God choosing one hominid from among a population to endow with a soul, it will likely be more so to consider that the children of Adam and Eve may have interacted with a species that looked and behaved in ways we would consider human, but were not human. The only response that can be offered is that God often operates in ways that mystify us. When we think we have God figured out, we will inevitably find we have been presumptuous (76).

For those who would suggest that Cain was afraid of his own family, Dr. Davidson does not believe that answer to be in sync with what the Bible teaches:

At the time of Cain’s banishment, he was the second [sic] child of the first humans in existence. Who else was there to fear? The most common explanation is that Adam and Eve had other children that populated the area into which Cain was to wander. … Indeed, Genesis 5:4 does say that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters, but there is a serious timing problem. The first three sons of Adam and Eve are explicitly named. Cain and Abel were the first two, followed by Seth after the murder of Abel (77).

Dr. Davidson also believes Noah’s flood to have been local or regional, but not global:

In the Flood story of Genesis, the literal occurrence of an immense flood and the rescue of Noah and his family are not in question. The question is whether the description of the flood covering the whole earth must literally mean the entire planet, or if it can mean the entire area of human habitation and experience: the known earth (82).

And why does Dr. Davidson believe that the flood was not global? Because he believes there is no “convincing evidence” that the flood was global:

Though much evidence exists for floods of immense proportions in different places around the globe at different times during the history of the earth, no convincing evidence has been found that the entire world was immersed at one particular time (82).

Finally, Dr. Davidson addresses the age of the earth. Science teaches that the earth is billions of years old. Dr. Davidson believes that the Bible is mostly silent on the age of the earth. He believes that the genealogies in Genesis do not give an approximate age of 6,000 years because there are gaps:

The likelihood that names were skipped in the lineage from Adam to Moses means that the ages included can only be used to set a minimum age on the creation (emphasis original, 85).

According to Dr. Davidson, the Bible only teaches that the earth is at least 6,000 years old (85).

Dr. Davidson’s answer to his question, “Does the science conflict with the intended message of the scripture?” is “No.”

Before he moves on to his third question, Dr. Davidson pauses to explain that there is no reason for a Christian to deny evolution. Some may be tempted to argue that evolution gives a different answer than the Bible as to “how” and “in what order” God created, but Dr. Davidson does not believe that this is the case:

Many argue that God has already answered the question of “how” and “in what order,” therefore any attempt to find natural explanations is evidence of a commitment to materialism, a direct denial of God. If the only plausible interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis was a literal one, this might be a fair claim. If the message of the creation days is authorship rather than process, however, then the search for natural explanations is nothing worse than an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork (88).

Since evolution, then, is just “an effort to see the details of God’s handiwork”, then there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity:

As a science, evolution is merely the name given to a study seeking to fit pieces of the life-history puzzle together in the most sensible way. … 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).

In the next section, Dr. Davidson addresses his final question: Is the science credible? His objective in this chapter is to:

provide simple, concise overviews of both the development and current evidence for scientific claims most relevant to Creation in language that non-scientists can grasp (97).

In order to be brief, here are some of the scientific claims that Dr. Davidson believes are credible: the “Big Bang” theory (99), the age of the earth is roughly 13.7 billion years old (107), the fossil record shows the obvious progression of life forms from simple to more complex (132), the Flood cannot explain the fossil record (132), and the common descent of man from animals (142).

Dr. Davidson explains that despite common misperceptions that transitional fossils are rare or even non-existent many transitional fossils are now accepted by science:

Transitional forms are now recognized for a large number of evolutionary pathways representing both large scale changes (e.g. amphibian to reptile; land mammal to marine mammal) and small scale changes (e.g. leaf eating mammal to grass eating mammal) (148).

And,

The general evolutionary pathway leading from reptiles to mammals, however, comes through clearly (151).

These transitional fossils also prove the common descent of man from apes:

It may come as surprise even to those who accept human evolution that there are now fossil remains from over 5000 different individual creatures that exhibit features intermediate between modern humans and ancient apes. … Well over a dozen different hominid species have now been identified that represent a broad spectrum of transitional forms (156-157).

Dr. Davidson is careful to explain, though, that his belief in the evolutionary development of life does not come from a belief in materialism, that all that exists is what is seen, but from the scientific evidence:

The belief that life originated from non-living materials is not derived exclusively from a commitment to materialism (recall that scripture tells us that the earth brought forth life at God’s command). Rather, the belief rises from the observation that the earth contains a distinct record of life forms through time that starts with very simple single-celled organisms that did not even have a cell nucleus. Give this record, it is logical that there may have been some natural, God-instituted processes at work that could have produced these first cells (152).

Having answered all three of his initial questions and determined that there is no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity that he can see, Dr. Davidson moves on to why Young Earth Creationism is both bad science and bad theology:

Young earth proponents start with the presupposed truth that the days in Genesis 1 were intended as a literal rendering of the creation events. As such, evolution must be false and the earth must be young. All examination of evidence must demonstrate this position. Two types of people emerge from this starting point. One type honestly argues scriptural or scientific evidence, though in my opinion make mistakes based on a faulty understanding of both scripture and science. … There is a second type that is more disturbing. To this group, the truth of special creation is of such importance that the truthfulness of arguments used in its support can be justifiably twisted if it leads toward belief in the ultimate truth of creation. The loose affiliation shared by these people make up the membership of a creationist cult, where the God of creation has been replaced by worship of creation events rather than the Creator. All is done in the name of Christ, but employing methods grossly inconsistent with Christian character (emphasis original, 165).

Dr. Davidson then lays out the ways in which Young Earth Creationists (YEC) employ misleading arguments:

The purpose is to demonstrate the different ways in which information is presented to make something true sound ridiculous, or something false sound quite plausible (166).

First, he argues that YEC proponents misuse terms in order to make evolution “appear weak or indefensible” (166). For example, when creationists confuse evolution with Darwinism, they wrongly suggest, according to Dr. Davidson, that evolution denies the existence of God:

This example promulgates the false assertion that creation and evolution are inherently opposite worldviews between which one must choose. … If God created through a series of generations, evolution is simply the name scientists have given to the study of God’s workmanship (167).

Dr. Davidson believes that it is also misleading for creationists to say that evolution can’t be proven by science since we can’t test what happened in the past (167). He explains that there are many hypotheses related to evolution that are testable by scientific study, including the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees:

Hypothesis: Humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, human and chimpanzees share a more distant common ancestor with gorillas, and all apes and humans share an even more distant common ancestor with monkeys. If true, DNA markers consistent with common ancestry should be more prevalent between humans and chimps than between chimps and monkeys (171).

After explaining the advances in the study and comparison of human and chimpanzee DNA, Dr. Davidson concludes:

Result: The greatest similarity (number of similar disabled sequences located in the same positions) is found between humans and chimps, less between humans/chimps and gorillas, and least between apes and monkeys. … The result of this test offers strong support for shared biological ancestry with the rest of God’s creation (172).

Other ways in which Dr. Davidson believes YEC proponents twist the truth include: misapplication of scientific laws or principles (175), use of half truths (180), misuse of probability calculations (194), and playing games with fossils (198). According to Dr. Davidson:

Life obviously changed in a step-wise fashion over time, but the complexity of the developmental pathway and the incomplete nature of the fossil record means it will not always be possible to firmly establish exact lineages between ancient and modern organisms (emphasis original, 199).

If life didn’t begin this way, then God must have deceived evolutionary scientists:

If God truly created as young-earth proponents insist, we are left with the conclusion that God must have intentionally created in such a way that the story told in the earth’s layers would appear different than what actually happened. Yet God assures us in Romans 1 that his character is evident in his creation (206).

Dr. Davidson concludes his book with what he believes the consequences will be if the church doesn’t accept evolution:

If the best interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 is consistent with what modern science now tells us about the age of the universe and the adaptive development of life over time, what could be the consequence of rejecting it? At the very least, there are three (233).

One consequence will be a failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity when we see it. With each new fossil discovery, we should be captivated by and enjoy the incredible artistry manifest in the ability to bring life from non-life, and to create new creatures from old. … Instead, each new find is met with reactions that may range from disinterest to disdain (233-234).

As each new scientific discovery is revealed that fits the evolutionary model, there will be a growing sense that God’s creation does not adequately reflect his authorship. God appears to be allowing his natural creation to tell a very convincing story that is entirely wrong. This cannot help but influence our view of God’s character. We will be forced to rationalize the the righteousness of a God who designed his natural creation to intentionally lead astray all but those willing to deny the story it yields (234).

The third consequence is the most sobering. When talking with questioning materialists, we will unwittingly become an obstacle to their path to faith. They will be looking at God’s workmanship while denying the Creator, and we will insist that to acknowledge the Creator they must deny his workmanship! Can there be a more ineffectual witness? How much better to simply open the door to show how the very work they see carries the signature of its author (234).

In conclusion, Dr. Davidson sees no conflict between evolutionary science and Christianity. He accepts the scientific claims for the origin of the universe, the age of the universe, the evolutionary origins and development of life, and the common descent of man from animals. He believes very strongly that YEC represents both bad science and bad theology. According to him, it is not merely another equally valid way to interpret the Scripture and the scientific evidence, but rather a “stumbling block to the faith” and a “failure to recognize and be awed by the magnificence of God’s creativity.” The logical conclusion of Dr. Davidson’s arguments is that there is no room for YEC in evangelical churches.