By Any Construction, Evolutionary Creationists Declare a False Peace

Long before Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection set off the modern version of the perceived dichotomy between science and Christian faith, St. Augustine of Hippo proposed a "Two Books" metaphor for Christians seeking truth about the world. God has given us two books, he said, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature, which provide complementary revelations so that we may know him and know the truth about the world we find ourselves inhabiting. Centuries later, the model is still revered, but that doesn't mean Christians have found agreement on how to interpret the books or how to harmonize what we think they're telling us.

Since Darwin, the conflict has centered on origins, and Zondervan Academic invited four Christian scholars to make their respective cases for the conceptual model they've each adopted regarding Christianity and evolution. The result, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (2017), is an excellent resource for the Christian armchair scientist who wants to compare and contrast the various camps of thought.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC), presented by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, holds to the strictest literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account, while Old Earth Creationism (OEC; sometimes called progressive creationism), presented by Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, allows for multiple possible interpretations of the creation "days." Evolutionary Creation (EC; traditionally called Theistic Evolution, or TE), presented by Deborah Haarsma of BioLogos, says that God created all life using a gradual, purely mechanistic evolutionary process but that his intervention is undetectable. And Intelligent Design (ID), presented by Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, stands in contrast to the other approaches by making no reference to the Bible or divine creation but rather drawing an inference to intelligence from the scientific evidence.

Salvo readers should be familiar with ID, but we need also to give attention to EC, because there is a growing number of advocates promoting it in the Evangelical churches.

A Philosophical Hybrid

Haarsma prefers the term "Evolutionary Creation" to the traditional "Theistic Evolution." "Evolutionary Creation," she explains, "emphasizes that the creator is the personal God revealed in the Bible and incarnated in Jesus Christ." This is a distinction without a difference, though, both from the standpoint of the science (what scientists believe theologically is irrelevant to the science) and from the standpoint of Christianity (because Christians of all camps hold these basic beliefs). Either way, the qualification explicitly ties EC to Christianity, as opposed to a more generalized form of deism. But is belief in a universe where God creates life undetectably through purely mechanistic processes more like Christian theism or classical deism?

Founded by Francis Collins with Templeton Foundation funding in 2007, BioLogos is the leading group promoting EC today, but the disposition to marry Darwin's theory, which pointedly excluded design, to divine creation traces back to the early post-Darwin years. In Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Matti Leisola quotes nineteenth-century scientists and theologians referring to "designed" evolution and evolution as "the method of creation."

Haarsma begins in the same hybrid vein with the parallel claims that "Evolution is real" and "The Bible is true." The two statements form a kind of overture in BioLogos's mission statement, as it "invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God's creation." It's a nice aspiration, but this "understanding" results in a shallow harmony if not outright disharmony.

BioLogos's EC harmony suffers from an internal problem due to its rigid commitment to methodological naturalism, the philosophical constraint that says only natural causes may be invoked in science. This is unproblematic in the physical sciences, but BioLogos is defending the mainstream evolutionary picture of origins and gradual evolution by natural mechanisms as the way all life came about. Within methodological naturalism, there is no possibility of detecting or inferring divine agency. And so, there lies at the heart of this model an intractable impasse between belief in a supernatural Creator God and commitment to an epistemology that says he is not in the picture.

EC thinking reduces to fideism—the epistemological theory that says faith is independent of reason. By definition, science searches for natural (and only natural) mechanisms to explain biological life. And then the evolutionary creationist, for his own personal, completely subjective reasons, professes the biblical God as the creator and designer of whatever the search has turned up. Haarsma's two truth claims are parallel, but the tenets are utterly divorced—one never reaffirms the other, and they are held for separate and often inharmonious reasons.

Scripture tells us that some knowledge about the Creator can be "clearly seen" in creation (e.g., Romans 1:20). But ECs insist, No, it can't—at least not in any empirically detectable way. This stance effectively surrenders the whole debate over origins to the atheists' "no God needed" postulate.

Coming to a Church Near You

BioLogos is not the only advocacy group behind TE/EC. It's being promoted from the top echelons of science through the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) and its Science for Seminaries program. Scientists in Congregations was launched in 2011, and out of that grew the STEAM Project (Science and Theology for Emerging Adult Ministries) and then Science in Congregations.

All these programs are designed to promote evolutionary viewpoints to the non-scientific religious demographic. With generous Templeton funding, they have held conferences, produced resources, and awarded grants to congregations to implement projects along TE/EC lines. But who are they to dictate that God must always and only create using natural causes? And why should the rest of professing Christianity accept their limitation on our thinking?

For the Sake of the Gospel?

Advocates point out that science is a big factor contributing to the problem of people leaving the church, and their solution is that we fully capitulate to mainstream science's picture of origins, however weak and unsupported it may be, in order to show that science and faith aren't in conflict. In Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, Greg Cootsona, a former pastor who's served on advisory boards for BioLogos and DoSER and now teaches on science and religion at California State University–Chico, outright says that Christians must engage mainstream science for the sake of the gospel. Cootsona, who is also affiliated with the various STEAM Projects, says that if we don't, "there may be millions fewer people in American pews in the coming years."

The word "mainstream," like "consensus," is highly operative in TE/EC circles. Cootsona wrote Mere Science hoping pastors and ministry leaders would endorse evolutionary science in their ministries. Here's why, in his own words: "Encouraging the integration of mere Christianity and mainstream science isn't simply about knowledge but, as researchers have discovered, 'intuitive cognitions' or 'feelings of certainty' that lead to decisions about what is true—the acceptance of evolution, for example." He continues: "a ministry leader's voice offers feelings of certainty [and] trusted voices are critical for opening emerging adults to explore mainstream science. . . . We believe things because those around us make them believable."

So the prescription for ministry leaders, according to the Rev. Dr. Cootsona, goes something like this: Ministry leaders should endorse mainstream science so that those who look to them for guidance may have "feelings of certainty." Whether those feelings of certainty concern Christianity or evolutionary science isn't exactly clear. Either way, on this ministry model, the feelings of certainty will do away with the perceived conflict between science and faith and therefore keep people in the pews. Cootsona goes so far as to say that we should keep our faith even if there is evidence to the contrary: "Should we give up the Bible in light of science? No, because our primary motivation with Scripture is a personal relationship with God, the author of Scripture. We stay in relationship even if there is evidence to the contrary."

I agree with him that a Christian's primary motivation is relationship with God, but believing for sociological reasons despite evidence to the contrary is how cults work. Christianity need not and never should work this way. We are called to give answers to those who ask, and positive vibes won't help the teenager who is asking hard, honest questions. Nor will it show the skeptic that there are compelling reasons to believe.

Nothing in Scripture even hints at going along to get along. Quite to the contrary, we are instructed to "test everything [and only] hold fast to what is good." Irreligionists already tell us our faith amounts to belief without evidence, and this fideistic ministry model gives them good reason for the aspersion and aids them in undermining the faith. Cootsona's "solution" arguably makes the problem worse.

Rationales of False Harmony

In Escape from Reason: The God Who Is There (1968), Francis Schaeffer used the metaphor of a two-story house to illustrate how the concept of truth itself has become divided. Science, which is held as "public truth," binding on everyone, occupies the lower story, while experience, values, and meaning, held as "personal truths," occupy the upper story. BioLogos's dichotomous model, wherein biology determines binding truth while private ideas stay tucked away in the attic, is classic postmodern thinking.

There's another problem with TE/EC activists that ranks higher on the disingenuousness scale. Whereas Cootsona belabors "mainstream science," other TE/ECs emphasize that they "accept" or "affirm" evolution. But they're equivocating on the word "evolution," and they are too highly trained as scientific thinkers to be doing so by accident.

"Evolution" has multiple meanings. It can refer to (1) the generally accepted observation that living organisms have changed over time in the history of life. If this is the definition in view, Christians of all four camps affirm evolution. Or it can refer to (2) universal common ancestry. Generally rejected by YEC and OEC but not inconsistent with ID, this is the more controversial tenet that all living organisms evolved from one common ancestral form. Finally, evolution can refer to (3) the affirmation, rejected by all but TE/EC, that natural mechanisms are fully sufficient to explain all the life forms we observe today.

This third conception is what TE/EC apologists are referring to when they talk about "accepting" evolution. It doubles as a shibboleth, and any conception that doesn't fully affirm evolution (3) gets cavalierly dismissed as "anti-evolution" or, more scurrilously, as categorically "anti-science."

None of this constitutes harmony. So what we are left with is this: some TE/EC Christians declare peace with mainstream science at the cost of harmony in their own minds, while others uncharitably mischaracterize their colleagues and so vandalize Christian harmony. One is problematic intellectually; the other is problematic morally.

There never has been a forced choice between science and Christian faith, and Christians in the sciences should know this already. And so, it apparently falls to the rest of us to harmonize Christianity and science for ourselves and our churches. The TE/EC model would have us stop thinking for ourselves in obsequious deference to the consensus, despite the incoherencies. The more harmonious integrations lie with Christians in the ID and creationist communities. They are the ones confronting problems in evolutionary science and recognizing in nature the God they profess when that's where the evidence leads. 

has a BS in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #50, Fall 2019 Copyright © 2020 Salvo |