Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Faith of an Evolutionary Creationist - 1

"What does an evolutionary creationist believe?" This is a wonderfully succinct description:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the grave.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy universal church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Irrespective of whether one is a young earth creationist, old earth creationist, or evolutionary creationist, this ancient profession of Christian faith unites all believers, with the mechanism by which God created heaven and earth a secondary issue.

Given this, why do I take the time to lay out the evidence that evolution is the mechanism of creation employed by God to bring about the diversity of life? Old earth creationist Alan Hayward, in his explanation for why he took the time to defend OEC put it well when he answered
Partly, I suppose, because I care about truth, for its own sake. It seems a pity that many people should cling to a belief in a young earth simply because they have been shown only one side of the argument. Some of them might well be glad of the chance to see the other side.
But there is much more to it than that. My main reason for opposing the notion of a young earth is this: those who advocate it are damaging the cause of Christ without realizing it.
Think of the historical parallels... The early Fathers thought they were defending the Bible when they argued that the world must be flat. But in fact they were only defending their own wrong interpretations of the Bible. And in the long run they harmed their own cause, by giving people the impression that Christianity was opposed to the scientific method of seeking knowledge. [1]
I cannot emphasise the second point enough. The fact of common descent and large-scale evolutionary change has not been in serious doubt for well over a century, and it does no faith tradition any good to try to argue that evolution is a 'theory in crisis.' The perils of denying scientific reality were outlined around 1600 years ago by Augustine:
“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. [2] (Emphasis mine)
It's not just the incredible damage denying evolution does to our credibility [3] as followers of Christ in the eyes of those to whom we are preaching, but also to young people growing up in a Christian community whom we would hope would follow the faith of their parents. One of the six reasons identified by the Barma Group, a Christian market research organisation, as to why nearly 60% of young people aged over 15 leave their faith is the perceived hostility of Christianity to science. [4] It is not uncommon for scientifically educated young Christians to leave their faith tradition because they have been told that evolutionary biology (not to mention other branches of science that contradict YEC) and Christian faith are mutually exclusive.

One cannot blame these disillusioned young people as they are being intellectually honest, something W.F. Barling warned would happen. Over fifty years ago, he wrote:
What is not generally realized is that this section of our community is not an organized, self-confident group bent on converting the remainder to a new opinion, but a number of perplexed individuals, deeply loyal to the community, desperately anxious not to offend those who do not share their anguish—let alone transfer it to their minds—but who feel that they must be intellectually honest. What they ask of their brethren and sisters is not a change of viewpoint but a change of attitude. None would rejoice more than they if incontestable evidence were finally produced to warrant the most literal acceptance of the opening chapters of Genesis. Meantime, what they seek is not approval but tolerance. If a repudiation of the notion of slow change as God’s method of creation is demanded of them, then their loss to the community is inevitable. So too, alas, is the loss of many potential candidates for baptism who share their perplexity and, feeling that the Brotherhood will not tolerate them with their mental reservations, are being driven, in their desire to give themselves to Christ, more and more towards evangelical groups with less exacting theological demands to make on their converts than we have. [5] (Emphasis mine)
Given that our community numbers little more than 50,000 worldwide, the loss of motivated, educated, intelligent people who are sorely needed to guide the community through the post-Christian era is one we cannot afford.

Evolution - purifying theological dross

A community that rejects original sin and the immortality of the soul should in theory have no substantive theological problems with evolution. L.G. Sargent, the fourth editor of The Christadelphian and no supporter of evolution nonetheless argued  that Adam was created mortal and pointed out that the concept of a 'neither mortal nor immortal' pre-fall state was logically incoherent:
The bare terms, stripped of the qualifying and amplifying phrases with which Dr. Thomas defines his meaning, have sometimes been thrown into the bald proposition that “Adam before the fall was neither mortal nor immortal”; which (to quote Euclid and Dr. Thomas) is absurd. A thing is either X or not-X: there can be no “neutral” position between. A man cannot be neither mortal nor not-mortal; and he cannot be neither not-mortal nor not-not-mortal. A thing is either black or not black, white or not white; it is either in the class of objects which have in common the quality of blackness, or it is in the class “not-black” which includes every other kind of colour, shade or tone. But it must come in one class or the other: there can be no neutral position between those two classes.

If, then, we take “immortal” to mean “incapable of dying” (as Dr. Thomas does in the passage quoted), we must say that Adam in his novitiate was not incapable of dying, therefore capable of dying, and therefore “mortal” as a simple antithesis to immortal, and using the widest sense of an ambiguous term. [6]
(Emphasis mine)
Given this, the imperative for us to genetically inherit something from Adam vanishes, along with any theological problems evolution may pose for us.

The same cannot be said for mainstream Christian denominations for whom both original sin and the immortality of the soul are fundamental tenets of faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith demands monogenism in order for the guilt and consequences of Adam's sin to be genetically transmitted:
I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.
II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. [7] (Emphasis mine)
The problem evolution poses for Original Sin, particularly the Reformed version of the doctrine is readily seen by even a cursory search on the subject. [8] Likewise, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is difficult at best to reconcile with evolution. Tyler Francke advanced two hypotheses, namely that the soul evolved, or it was inserted into the human lineage at a predetermined point. To his credit, Franke acknowledged difficulties with both. With respect to the first hypothesis, he admitted:
The biggest problem is, um, how in the world could a soul evolve? We understand evolution to be an incredibly long and tedious process — virtually infinite in its gradualness. If a soul could evolve, does that mean there are species alive right now that have some sort of strange, half-formed version of a soul inside them? Do chimpanzees, who are alike us in so many ways, also have a type of “transitional” soul that is just a tad less developed then ours? And if so, what does that mean? Will only part of them be in heaven? Or will their souls go to heaven, they just won’t be quite as eternal as ours?
As for the second, he noted:
But there are weaknesses here as well. It’s arbitrary, for one thing. This theory would mean that, sometime in our history, for whatever reason, God just picked a handful of primitive apes and made them eternal in a way no other creature in the world is.

And what of those who were not chosen? Because of how evolution works, we know there were many variant buds on the twig that became our species. So what of the closely related subsets of Homo sapiens who were left soul-less? Did they notice a change in their cousins? Did they sigh heavily and say, “Oh great, Adam and Eve got religion. Now they’re going to wear clothing and think they’re better than us”? [9] (Emphasis in original)
Levity aside, Francke's admissions show that a belief in human immortality and evolution are incredibly difficult to reconcile in a way that isn't arbitrary. The fact our theology is immune to such difficulties is something we should be celebrating, as it allows us to present a rational faith which has nothing to fear from modern science.

Over the months, I will be expanding on themes in this introductory post.


1. Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies (Triangle Books, 1985), 79–80.
2. Augustine "The Literal Meaning of Genesis" Cited in Joshua J Mark "St. Augustine: from The Literal Meaning of Genesis" Ancient History Encyclopedia 18 January 2012
3. See for example here and here for how evolution denialism affects our credibility.
4. Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church: Research Releases in Millennials & Generations Barna September 27, 2011
5. Barling W.F. "Letter: The Origin of Man" The Christadelphian (1965) 102:463–464
6. Sargent L.G. Adam in Innocence The Christadelphian (1941) 78:14
7.  Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 6. Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the Punishment Thereof.
8. Loren Haarsma "Why the Church Needs Multiple Theories of Original Sin (Part 1)" BioLogos November 25, 2013. The title of Haarsma's article along positively shouts the fact that multiple theological epicycles are being added to the doctrine of Original Sin in order to rescue it from the evidence for human evolution and against the monogenism which it demands in its classical form.
9.  Francke T "Soul-Searching: In Light of Evolution, Where did the Soul Come From?" God of Evolution May 11 2013