Evangelicals Debate Theistic Evolution, Historical Adam

Evangelical Christians have launched a civil debate on their opposing views on evolution and its compatibility with Scripture. Rather than a "tit-for-tat" exchange, they sought to start something more "charitable" and "respectful" in the science and faith discussion.

The online debate – or what The BioLogos Foundation is calling a "charitable dialogue" – began earlier this year when Southern Baptist scholars were given the opportunity to express some of their concerns to BioLogos regarding the organization's approach to Scripture, interpretation of the first book of Genesis and the status of Adam, among other things.

Seven professors from Southern Baptist seminaries are outlining their concerns with theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism.

Kenneth Keathley, professor of Theology and senior vice president for Academic Administration of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., wrote, "One gets the impression at times that evolutionary creationism is a theory in search of theological justification. It's easy to see why believing scientists who hold to evolution would want to find ways that evolution could be compatible with orthodox Christian doctrine. However, theologically speaking, the danger of the tail wagging the dog is very real.

"Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution? Are we to start with a scientific conclusion and then look for biblical sanction? I don't think most scientists would want to do science the way evolutionary creationists seem to be asking theologians to do theology."

Three evangelicals from The BioLogos Foundation – a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith – worked together to respond to Keathley's post.

"'Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution?' Keathley asks. That's an excellent question. The answer might well be no, but then neither could one start with the Scriptures and arrive at a heliocentric model of our solar system, which virtually all Christians now accept," stated Kathryn Applegate, program director at BioLogos; Darrel Falk, president of BioLogos; and Deborah Haarsma, member of the BioLogos Board of Advisors.

The three contended that Christians need to "rethink the kind of information we're expecting from the Genesis creation account."

"We mustn't seek answers to questions the writers of Scripture weren't attempting to address. Based on the text itself, it is hard to make a case that Genesis was written to explain how God made our physical bodies."

While they agreed with Keathley about being careful in not letting the "scientific tail wag the theological dog," they added, "we suggest that science and theology – both interpretive activities, both based on God's revelation – speak to each other in mutually enriching ways."

Backing evolution, they noted that the theory has stood for 150 years with "overwhelming support" and that it "behooves us as Christians to consider it seriously."

BioLogos believes that God created the universe, the earth, and all life over billions of years and that God continues to providentially sustain the natural world.

It further believes that "the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution and common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Darwinism and Evolutionism that claim that evolution is a purposeless process or that evolution replaces God."

Meanwhile, most Southern Baptists reject theistic evolution and hold to young earth creationism (the belief that the universe was created thousands of years ago) though some, including Keathley, are old earth creationists (who believe the universe is billions of years old). Notably, the Southern Baptist Convention does not have an official stance on the age of the earth.

James K. Dew, Jr., assistant professor of the History of Ideas and Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he found BioLogos to be inconsistent in rejecting deism (that the universe is self-sustaining and that God is no longer active in the natural world), while denying direct involvement from God in the creation of the different life forms on earth.

"I am simply suggesting that their insistence that it was natural processes, and not God's direct involvement, that gave rise to the varieties of life on earth seems inconsistent with their theism," he contended. "If theism is true and God is directly involved in the creation of the universe, the prayer life of the saints, and miraculous events like the resurrection, why is it problematic to say that He was directly involved in populating the earth with various life forms?"

Theistic evolutionists, he defined, believe that God directly caused the universe to come into existence, but that natural processes took care of the rest.

In his rebuttal, Ard Louis, international secretary for Christians in Science, argued that Christians have "too low a view of the way God normally acts in the world" and because of that, descriptions of God working through evolutionary processes sound like deism.

"They feel that God is only really present in miraculous acts. But that is an impoverished view of God's sovereignty," he maintained.

"In short, I believe, based in part on Biblical grounds, that God most likely created much of the biological complexity around us using the 'ordinary ways' he sustains the world. It is at least as glorious for God to create a process that generates the beautiful complexity we see in nature, as it is for him to create species (or kinds) de novo."

Getting into the debate on whether or not Adam was a historical figure, Keathley of Southeastern Baptist Seminary argued that he was.

"For most Southern Baptists, including me, the historicity of Adam and Eve is a litmus test. Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals why we believe this way," he wrote. "The New Testament authors treat Adam as a historical figure, and they interconnect the mission and work of Jesus with the first man. Paul repeatedly presents Christ as the last Adam – succeeding where the first Adam failed and redeeming fallen humanity in the process."

Those at BioLogos (Applegate, Falk, and Haarsma) responded:

"[W]hether or not Adam was a real person is a theological question, not a scientific one; the most science can say is that there was never a time when the human population from which all modern humans descended was as small as two individuals ... but nothing in evolutionary biology precludes the possibility that God began a covenantal relationship with a real, historical first couple who brought about spiritual death as a result of their disobedience."

BioLogos, they noted, does not take a firm position on the historicity of Adam and Eve.

"We view the historical details of Adam and the physical details of the Fall as secondary matters of belief and not core beliefs on which all Christians must agree."

The ongoing series – titled "Southern Baptist Voices – came about after a conversation between Keathley and Falk. BioLogos doesn't intend to present exhaustive arguments on the important topics of evolution and creation but the organization is hoping the series could spark more discussion in a charitable manner, considering many preceding debates have not always been productive or civil.

The latest piece in the series, published this week, addresses essentialism. It can be viewed here. Other issues tackled include "Is Darwinism Theologically Neutral?" and "Evolutionary Creationism and the Imago Dei."

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