Thoughts on Theistic Evolution

Theistic EvolutionOne of the most controversial topics among Christians is the role of evolution, if any, in the creation of humanity. I’m not referring to debates between Christians and non-Christians, but disagreements among people in the church. One of the issues is the concept of theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creationism).

I have read a lot in the area of evolution, theistic evolution, intelligent design and related topics. I must confess that I get frustrated with the conversation. Not only is there a lack of respect in the conversation, there is also a lack of clarity. What do we mean by evolution? What role did God have in it?

For example, those who hold to theistic evolution are strongly against intelligent design. Interestingly, they are more open to the argument from design on the cosmological level. This confuses me because if God used evolution to create humanity, why must that exclude any evidence of design?

This comes down to how we define evolution. For example, Michael Behe is a strong advocate for intelligent design. Behe believes in common ancestry, meaning that humans and other animals developed from other animals and animals that are much different now can trace their ancestors back to a common life form. That would seem to be a form of evolution since animals are, in Behe’s view, evolving from less developed animals.

But theistic evolutionists and intelligent design advocates would reject that as evolution. That is because evolution is much more than a belief in a tree of life that traces different species to a common ancestor. Evolution also includes the concept of random mutation. Behe, while holding to common ancestry, doesn’t believe the changes came about by random mutations. Behe believes that the changes are the results of God’s design.

What I would want to know from theistic evolutionists is what they see as God’s role. Is evolution something that can work all by itself, without any involvement from God? Is God necessary for human life to develop? In what way are we his creation? In what way is evolution theistic? Could it be possible for God to be active in the entire process of evolution, making sure things went the way he wanted?

This is not meant to be an attack on theistic evolution. I’m open to the idea that God could have used some form of evolution to create humanity. But so far, I’m not satisfied with the current form of the conversation.


Views on Human Origins

I recently did a Twitter poll on people’s beliefs on human origins. Here are the results.

Obviously the numbers are not large enough to prove anything scientific. But the results are interesting nonetheless.

What do these results tell us? They tell us that there is diversity in views among sincere Christians. There are many instances when Christians have attacked each other over these issues. This should not be.

It is good for us to hold our views strongly that doesn’t mean that we should be intolerant of other opinions.

If you are interested in this, I would recommend this sermon that I preached on my church.


2 Books on Theistic Evolution

I have been doing some research on the intersection of faith and science. This has led me to read on human origins. I would like to talk about two books that I recently read on theistic evolution.

What is theistic evolution? It is also called evolutionary creationsim. It basically is a view that the basic principles of the neo-Darwinian synthesis are accurate in describing the development of life on earth. But in contrast to Darwinians such as Richard Dawkins, these scientists believe that there is a God and that he is involved somehow.

Coming to Peace With ScienceThe first book that I read was Coming to Peace With Science by Darrel R. Falk. I really enjoyed this book. As a non-scientist, many of these books leave me scratching my head. But Falk has a nice style that is easy to understand.

Falk interacts with both young earth creationists and intelligent design theories. While disagreeing with them, he speaks very respectfully of their views.

In this book, Falk provides a convincing argument for an old universe and an old earth. He then switches to arguments for evolution. What I liked about Falk is that he actually speaks about God. While not giving details of what exactly God was doing, either to create first life or start the evolutionary process, he does mention God’s presence being essential.

Language of GodThe second book I read was the Language of God by Francis Collins. Collins is a bit better known than Falk, having been the head of the Human Genome Project.

I suppose it is not quite accurate to say this is a book about theistic evolution. It is really about why Collins, as a scientist and a former atheist, is now a committed Christian.

For Collins, the most convincing arguments are the existence of a life permitting universe, the moral argument and the universal longing for God.

Collins does not look to the beginning of life on earth as evidence for God. While we do not know how it began yet, he sees giving God the credit as being a god-of-the-gaps argument. We may discover how it could have happened naturally and that may later prove an embarrassment for those claiming it was God.

There were things that I liked about Collins’s book. I appreciated his personal story and enjoyed the story of the mapping of the genome and all comes from that.

But there were things that I didn’t like. He does not want to go to the beginning of life or the development of life on earth as reflecting God’s activity. He totally rejects the design argument on the biological side.

However, he accepts similar types of arguments on the cosmological side. He sees the existence of and fine-tuning of the universe as pointing to a Creator. His arguments against biological design could also be used against what he says about cosmological design.

I happen to believe that God is the originator and designer of both, but that’s just me.

While I have no problem with people believing in theistic evolution, I have a few questions.

  • What role did God have in the first life on earth?
  • Was God responsible for it or was it just a “lucky” break that he got to share his universe with other living beings?
  • Why does evolution work?
  • Does evolution need God or does it work just fine by itself?
  • Did God create or design that first life in such a way that it could evolve into all the lifeforms we see?
  • Did God have the goal of humans evolving or was that just the way it happened to be and God just dealt with it?

If you are a theistic evolutionist, I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions.


Resources on Theistic Evolution

When I came to personal faith in my early 20s, I was told that young earth creationism was the only option for understanding the origins of humanity. I was told that any Christian that believed in evolution was not really a Christian. So I was shocked when I started seminary and a number of my professors believed in evolution.

I now understand that there is a range of interpretations of the biblical and scientific data. I believe that people in each camp are faithful Christians who are doing their best to understand the data.

I recently listened to a few podcast episodes that dealt specifically with theistic evolution (often also called evolutionary creationism). I thought I would share the links here to help further the conversation.

I also encourage you to check out this interview I had with Andrew Walsh on theistic evolution. You might also like this page I have started on creation and evolution.


Interview With Andrew Walsh on Theistic Evolution

Interview With Andrew Walsh on Theistic Evolution
Hope's Reason

00:00 / 20:01

Andrew WalshFaithful Christians have a variety of views on the origins of life and the age of the earth. One of these views is theistic evolution. Dr. Andrew Walsh shares with us his understanding of evolution and how that fits with his faith.

Recommended Links:
Recommended Books:
Quantum Physics and Theology by John Polkinghorne (USA) (Canada)
Language of God by Francis Collins (USA) (Canada)

Creationism and Evangelism

When I first became a Christian, one of the hardest things that I had to deal with was not persecution but how to deal with Genesis 1. I always hated reading that chapter. It was not so much the question of evolution but the age of the earth. The Christians I knew expected me to believe in a 6000 year old earth and a literal six day creation. Believing in young earth creationism was just as important as believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus. To paraphrase the Catholics, there is no salvation outside of young earth creationism.

This is not meant as an attack on young earth creationism. You could substitute any of the other theories here. My point is that I did not know that there were other options. This brings me to my question. How important is getting a seeker to agree with your version of creationism in your evangelism? Would you insist that they agree with your understanding of the age of the earth as an essential to them becoming a Christian? Would you be okay with them having a different understanding of creation as they became a Christian or would you feel that their “error” would lead them on a slippery slope to other theological problems?

I will tell you what I think. If I was sharing my faith, I would not care what they thought of the age of the earth. If they were interested (I would not even bring it up unless they did), I would share the options and let them work it out.

Having said that, what would you do? I would love to hear your opinion.