The debate between Young Earth Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists continues with a recent claim by Karl Giberson of Bilogos that those who seek to follow Jesus should believe in evolution because Jesus would have believed in it himself. I have come across responses to Giberson written by Douglas Wilson, Frank Turk, and Albert Mohler. No doubt, the final word has not yet been written on this contentious issue.
The modest aim of this post is to delineate some blind alleys in this debate in order to help us think through what the central issues are and are not. I feel the need to address this issue because so much of what I read appears to miss the forest because it is focused on the most prominent twig hanging off of the third branch from the bottom of a single tree.
So what is the debate between creationists and theistic evolutionists not about?
1. It is not about whether or not the Bible is a science book. I know of no reputable young earth creationist who proposes that it is. Yet Christian evolutionists, once they have stated this obvious fact, think the debate is over. It appears that, according to their reasoning, if the Bible is not a science book, it therefore cannot offer claims that would impinge on scientific knowledge. That conclusion simply does not follow. No one is claiming that Genesis 1 offers an account of origins in modern scientific language. That is not the issue at stake.
2. It is not primarily about how one interprets Genesis 1. So much of the debate centers on the question of what the word “day” means in that passage. I think such an exegetical question is almost irrelevant to the debate. One could argue that “day” should be taken in its normal sense, and yet the whole passage be interpreted as a figurative portrayal of a lengthy process that, in reality, spans billions of years. On the other hand, a Young Earth Creationist could argue that “day” is being used in an unusual sense and yet still arrive at the young earth conclusion (John Feinberg takes this view in his book No One Like Him). This debate is not primarily about Genesis 1:1-2:3.
So what is the debate about? Here is what I propose:
This debate is about how we are going to understand God’s story. Traditionally, the church has understood the Bible’s storyline as one of creation, fall, redemption, new creation. It is a movement from “very good” (creation) to curse (fall) and back up through the work of Christ (redemption) to a restored world, one that even surpasses the original creation in glory (new creation). Young Earth Creationism maintains this storyline intact.
Theistic evolution, on the other hand, offers a different picture. In this way of thinking, creation does not begin “very good.” It begins with an intense struggle for survival, where only the strong live on by feeding upon the weak. It is “red in tooth and claw” through and through, for billions and billions of years, gradually progressing upward. At some point, humanoids begin to appear. At some point, these humanoids can be officially categorized as “human beings” who are God’s image bearers. But human beings do not fall from a pristine state under the dominion of sin and under the terror of the divine curse. They emerge out of an animal-like existence that has always been cursed by death. There is no historical moment to which we can point that represents the entry of sin into the world. We are what we are, not because of our own moral culpability, but because this is where we happen to fall on the chain of evolution.
There is no reason, scientifically speaking, to affirm that the process of evolution has ended. We are still living in it, progressing evermore toward higher forms of life. We do not so much need the forgiveness of sins as we need enough time to progress into supermen whose character flaws have been eliminated and who will build a utopia on earth. As my friend Ali has said, “If evolution is true we don’t need a saviour, we need more evolution.”
Which will it be? Creation–>Fall–>Redemption–>New Creation, or a constant upward movement from chaos to utopia? This is really what the debate is about.
(Note: I am aware that Young Earth Creationism and Theistic evolution are not the only two alternatives. One could maintain the basic storyline of the Bible and affirm an old earth apart from theistic evolution, although that does introduce some problems into the story. The point I am making here is merely that when we affirm evolutionary theory on the question of human origins, we are implicitly affirming a different storyline than that of Scripture.)