Discussing Evolution with Care

Discussing Evolution with Care

The other day I was interviewed by some folks from Danish television, for a special they are doing on debates about religion in public life in America. They asked good questions, although I was not quite prepared to be quizzed as much as I was about creation and evolution.

Not that I have no thoughts about that subject. When I was a teenager, Bernard Ramm’s A Christian View of Science and the Scripture was quite controversial in my part of the evangelical world. So I read it, and he convinced me that something in the neighborhood of “progressive creationism” and “theistic evolution” was quite acceptable for those of us with a high view of biblical authority, and that is where I have been on the subject ever since. So if anyone asks me, I feel quite free to say that I do not believe in a literal six-day creation, and that an acceptance of the Genesis account is quite compatible with a belief in evolution.

But I worry some about giving too much encouragement to the defenders of evolution, especially because of a controversy that took place a few years ago.  It hasn’t gotten a lot of notice, but it should inject a note of caution into the views of those of us who distance ourselves from the “young earth” types.

In 1995 the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) adopted this position statement on the teaching of evolution: “The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”

Needless to say, this statement went far beyond anything supported by the scientific evidence. In saying that all life has resulted from an “unsupervised” and “impersonal” process, the NABT was committing itself to a worldview that explicitly ruled out the existence of a God who was guiding the process of evolution. This was noticed by two well-known philosophers, Al Plantinga, my colleague for many years at Calvin College and now at Notre Dame, and Huston Smith, who has written several important books on world religions. Together they protested the wording of the NABT statement, insisting that it contained an explicit denial of God’s existence.

Meeting in Minneapolis in October of 1998, the NABT voted not to revise the statement. But three days later, they reversed their decision, agreeing to drop the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal.”

We can be grateful for the change. But the very fact that those words appeared in the original version, and that the NABT was reluctant to delete them when challenged, should also make all believers nervous. We don’t have to be six-day creationists to see in this episode a tendency among teachers of evolution to gravitate toward a big-picture worldview that really is meant to leave God out of the picture. Those of us who like to have arguments with people on our right would do well to be sure that we are not ignoring a battle that is being waged effectively against us on our left flank!



  1. This may be true (I certainly trust that you wouldn’t make something like this up!), but I have to say that I cringe every time I hear right-wingers talk about a “conspiracy” to espouse active (as opposed to merely nominal) atheism, and this sounds enough like that to send up those red flags. I would take this warning with some caution. I think we’re in FAR more danger of right-wingers injecting bad theology into the secular world in their well-meaning efforts to respect God than we’re in any danger from the left-wingers who deny God’s existence.

    Comment by B-W — February 23, 2007 @ 2:37 pm

  2. Thanks for this post Dr. Mouw. I hold to the theistic evolution position. My Dad is a scientist and I have been around science all my life. Some of the most mystical people I have met are scientists.

    Yet I think your warning is valid. At the highest levels of scientific organizations there have been attempts over the years to frame any Christian belief as anathema to science. National science organizations in the early decades of the 20th Century sought intimidate anyone who articulated Christian fatih by labeling them a literal six-day creataionist and then trying to make the label stick. There was intentional effort elminate any ground for theistic evolution. B_W writes that the major issue right now is with the Right and he may be correct. But I think your warning not to drop our guard is well founded.

    Thanks again!

    Comment by Michael Kruse — February 23, 2007 @ 4:24 pm

  3. Thank you, brother, for these thoughts. The dynamics of the typical arguments between scientific naturalists and six-day creationists are unhealthy and overly reductionistic in the extreme. The passions of both sides often cause them to say things that, in their better moments, they would realize far transcend their respective methodologies. And in the Reformed tradition, you are in good stead regarding a cautious affirmation of theistic evolution — as I’m sure you know, B.B. Warfied was himself open to this position! I myself find the “evidence” ambiguous and puzzling, while leaning toward theistic evolution. The sticking point for me is the logic of Romans 5 (Adam and Christ) and the apparent “need” for a literal fall. That’s still possible with the position of theistic evolution, I’ve just not seen the best articulations of how that works — or what the implications are if it doesn’t. Thanks again for the post!

    Comment by Michael Walker — February 25, 2007 @ 9:08 pm

  4. Dr. Mouw,

    I have learned great insight of the dissension between the scientific evolution view point vs. factional creation concept. I didn’t know much about the debate before this blog reading. As I was doing my morning Bible reading, the following scripture helped me to grasp the understanding from my clouded mind:

    “Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your status. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. ..I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me…I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psalm 119: 98-104)



    Comment by LLL — February 28, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  5. While I’m not an expert on evolution, I believe that God did make different species, making us in His image as stewards over all creation. No matter what theory we want to believe, how have we ‘evolved’ spiritually in God’s image today?

    Comment by Jan Fredericks — March 6, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

  6. I think statements like these show why (at least in part) Christianity is not as strong as it could be:

    “I feel quite free to say that I do not believe in a literal six-day creation, and that an acceptance of the Genesis account is quite compatible with a belief in evolution.”

    The language of the Bible could not be more clear (day,night, evening and morning, first day…etc), and the command to keep the Sabbath would be meaningless if it didn’t refer to a regular 24-hour day as we know it today. Yet the president of a major seminary can argue ostensibly against the Bible and all lexical and contextual evidence to the contrary.

    Then there is the fact that evolutionary theory has been challenged on several fronts by evolutionists like Dr. Michael Denton and non-Christians like Dr. David Berlinski. So this is not an issue of “right-wingers” and “young earth creationists” desperately trying to support the Bible. To uncritically accept evolution as some kind of established fact like a round earth is simply irrational based on the evidence, and it surely is not truly compatible with the Bible or orthodox Christianity based on it.

    But if you fall for the line that evolution is fact, then of course your next course of action will be to distort the Bible so that evolution seems to “fit” in, which means the 6 literal days of creation along with other things must be thrown out. That, I would say, is a crying shame, when the Bible’s authority must be made subservient to the speculations of mere men in the field of “science.”

    Comment by Arthur D — March 13, 2007 @ 7:35 pm

  7. Reading Arthur D.’s comment above I thought I might follow up on my earlier comment and suggest folks take a look at the “Framework Hypothesis,” aka “Framework Interpretation” of the Genesis creation story. I am quite “conservative” hermeneutically and for that very reason I think it’s important to recognize that part of interpreting texts “literally” is interpreting them “literarily.” I find the framework hypothesis (which looks at the literary intentions of the creation story through its poetic structure) a very helpful and illumining way of understanding the creation account. (Incidentally, it doesn’t conflict with a theistic-evolutionary theology, which, while one of its virtues, is not the primary reason I find it convincing.) If you search Wikipedia for the words “framework interpretation genesis” it will come up.

    Comment by Michael Walker — March 25, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  8. Just when it appeared that God may have delayed his response to evolutionists, enter THE QUEST FOR RIGHT, a masterful work on creationism.

    The great gulf of ambiguity that once separated Intelligent Design from legitimate scientific
    discourse has been abolished. It is a fact: The Quest for Right has accomplished that which, heretofore, was deemed impossible: to level the playing field between forces advocating creationism and those promoting evolution.

    The Lord has heard the cries of His people and responded with a scientific resource on creationism that will stop these onslaughts against Christianity. The Quest for Right turns the tide by providing an authoritative and enlightening scientific explanation of natural phenomena that will ultimately replace the Darwinian view.

    For example, the investigation dismantles the hocus pocus responsible for the various absolute radioisometric dating techniques by which rocks and other materials are supposedly dated. Absolute-”perfect, complete, definite; without a prospect of being incorrect.” On these incalculable formulae— and they are incalculable—rest the science council’s claim that the earth is of great age, accreting some 4.6 billion years B.C. Upon publication of The Quest for Right, the council’s choice of the superlative absolute will be assessed to be a scurrilous invective, an “abusive, offensive, even vulgar, connotation.” After all, who would question an absolute? It is a matter of record that these dating systems are the tools by which evolutionists have attempted to rip apart the validity of historical documentations, specifically, that the account of creation as recorded in the Bible is mythology. The Quest for Right has changed all of that: the scientific record of creation has stood undaunted against these attacks and has proven to be an invaluable asset to the in-depth investigation.

    The first three volumes of the seven volume set will be published early fall ‘07. The Quest for Right is all new from the get-go and is destined to make headlines that will reverberate within the halls of academia throughout the world. Coming soon to bookstores and online merchants such as Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel.com, Walmart.com and questforright.com. Author, C. David Parsons, biblical scholar and scientist extraordinare.

    Comment by Linda Parsons — May 29, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  9. “I feel quite free to say that I do not believe in a literal six-day creation…”

    Wow! So much for Jesus statment, Mat 19:26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    You don’t believe it, so by your estimate, it can’t be done. Do I, or anyone else, need a doctrate to believe Jesus words. All things, including a literal six-day creation. There are way too many examples in scripture that says that God can do anything. And, a whole lot in scripture that says, “we are limited”. I’m sorry that you believe this way. Have you truly forgotten your “first love”. Here is what Revelation says to the church of Ephesus.

    Rev 2:4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

    Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.
    Rev 2:6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
    Rev 2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

    I pray for Dr.Mouw

    Comment by GR Tyler — July 27, 2007 @ 10:44 am

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  17. I must say that I find the “framework hypothesis” quite unconvincing and inadequate and no real answer to the two issues: The Bible’s clear statements and the fallacious nature of evolutionary science.

    The Bible must not be made to serve pseudo-scientific interpretations of how the world came to be and remains. For those interested, here are some resources on the fallacies in the “framework hypothesis”:



    Comment by Arthur D. — October 23, 2007 @ 1:59 am

  18. A non christian scientist will be concerned about theistic evolution for the simple reason that any evolution known today is a very violent process. This would contradict a loving god, commonly taught in Christian circles. Therefore it would be confusing to teach a loving god along side a violent evolution of modern life in academic circles. If a Christian can still believe in a loving god that is responsible for the deaths of billions of mammal species that that is their decision, however should understand that is somewhat illogical.

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