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Theistic evolution, generally defined, is the belief that natural processes sustained by God’s ordinary providence were the means by which he brought about life and humanity. It often entails a common ancestry for all living things, macro-evolution, and some version of polygenesis.

William Dembski explains:

For young-earth and old-earth creationists, humans bearing the divine image were created from scratch. In other words, God did something radically new when he created us–we didn’t emerge from pre-existing organisms. On this view, fully functioning hominids having fully human bodies but lacking the divine image never existed. For most theistic evolutions, by contrast, primate ancestors evolved over several million years into hominids with fully human bodies. (God and Evolution, 91)

According to some proponents of theistic evolution Genesis 2:7 is a reference to God’s work in history whereby he made Adam into a spiritual being in the image of God, instead of the lesser sort of being he was before. This approach still insists on the historicity of Adam and Eve and their real fall in the Garden. But, on this view, Adam may not have been the first human:

According to [Denis] Alexander’s preferred model, anatomically modern humans emerged some 200,000 years ago, with language in place by 50,000 years ago. Then, around 6,000-8,000 years ago, God chose a couple of Neolithic farmers, and then he revealed himself for the first time, so constituting them as Homo divinus, the first humans to know God and be spiritually alive. (Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, 47)

And what’s wrong with this approach? Why can’t we say Adam was a real person and the first person to know God, but not the only human on the planet? Aren’t we still in the realm of historic orthodoxy even if Adam evolved from other beings and may not have been the physical father of all living persons? I am raising these questions not to suggest a single blog post and a few quotations obliterates evolution. The point rather is to examine whether full-blown evolution can be reconciled with complete allegiance to biblical authority.

Listed below are eight problems Wayne Grudem finds with theistic evolution. I realize he may not be an authority on these matters, but in typical fashion he distills the main points nicely and explain succinctly what unbiblical conclusions we must reach for theistic evolution to be true.

(1) Adam and Eve were not the first human beings, but they were just two Neolithic farmers among about ten million other human beings on earth at that time, and God just chose to reveal himself to them in a personal way.

(2) Those other human beings had already been seeking to worship and serve God or gods in their own ways.

(3) Adam was not specially formed by God of ‘dust from the ground’ (Gen. 2:7) but had two human parents.

(4) Eve was not directly made by God of a ‘rib that the Lord God had taken from the man’ (Gen. 2:22), but she also had two human parents.

(5) Many human beings both then and now are not descended from Adam and Eve.

(6) Adam and Eve’s sin was not the first sin.

(7) Human physical death had occurred for thousands of years before Adam and Eve’s sin–it was part of the way living things had always existed.

(8) God did not impose any alteration in the natural world when he cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin. (Should Christians Embrace Evolution?, 9)

These are other questions theistic evolution raises for the Bible believing Christian. How can we uphold the special dignity and majesty the Bible accords human beings when we are only qualitatively different from other life forms and continuous with the rest of the animal world? How can God impute sin and guilt to all humans along the lines of federal headship when some of us have no physical connection with Adam? Likewise, if we are not all descended literally from one pair, how can we all have an ontological connection with Christ who only assumed the flesh of Adam’s race?

Of course, these problems are no problems at all (conceptually) without the Bible to account for. But theistic evolution purports to bring together the evolutionary consensus and a faithful doctrine of creation. That’s the whole appeal. And yet, I don’t see how the two are compatible, whether Adam really existed or not.

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262 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution?”

  1. Steve Drake says:

    It is sadly disappointing when the original poster of an opinion such as “What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution” will not rise to defend his position against the evolutionary interlocutors who rabidly disseminate their false doctrine to persuade the faithful in error. Where is the true shepherd who will defend the flock?

  2. DRT says:

    Steve Drake, you are right, I, at least, never got down to the detailed discussions as to what the problem is with theistic evolution. That is, perhaps, the biggest problem we have right now and this conversation bears it out. We can’t ever get to a legitimate discussion about the relative merits and demerits of theistic evolution without debating the whole “is the scientific consensus truly that evolution, or at least common descent happens and is scientifically viable.”

    I would much rather be debating the merits of theistic evolution rather than the scientific merits of common descent. But until we get past the vocal folks who hold the notion that the scientific evidence is not, at least, very persuasive regarding common descent we can never get to the arguments for and against Theistic common descent.

    Whether you all like it or not, I am a Christian. I believe the creeds. What more do you want. To try and lump me in with atheists does not help things.

    My actual thought on theistic evolution are as follows:

    1. I believe that god has created everything and his will is the substance of our existence.

    2. I don’t believe that there were exactly two humans alive at any point in history.

    3. I believe that god’s providence has guided the evolution of humans

    4. I believe that god may, or may not have actually intervened in the evolution of humans, though he may have.

    5. I don’t have any firm conclusion on the subject of Adam and Eve. It is possible that they were first Jews, or that they were at different points in time. What I do believe about them is that they are a fantastic construct to discuss the fallen nature of man.

    6. I don’t know what the actual concrete physical fall looked like, and lean towards it being a gradual process of people gaining the knowledge of good versus evil via evolution, but am not certain and also lean toward the notion that we will never know for certain how it actually happened.

    7. Given the previous points I believe, all the way, in what Genesis is saying. I just don’t know the precise definition of what is abstract thought and what is concrete reality. In the end I do not think it matters because I think the fundamentalist construct of an innerent bible is simply not true not supported by the self proclamation of the bible.

    You see, in the end I am willing to chalk a bunch of it up to mystery, and I feel that is a humble place to be. I don’t need the bible to be some perfect innerent thing to believe that Jesus was god and was our best example of god and was the Christ and is therefore the ruler of the world. That is not contingent on genesis for me.

    I hope that you can see that I am not some heathen bent on destructing the church, but instead am a faithful brother who has ideas different from yours on several doctrines. There is nothing wrong with my thought.

    Have a great weekend.

  3. Glenn says:

    I would add to Grudem’s list that it would also make Jesus a liar – Matt 19:4, 8

  4. Jon Gore says:

    It seems to me that to adopt evolution into the Biblical narrative brings so much baggage that the theology becomes untenable – hence Grudem, who is astute, has to reject it.
    On the other hand – to hang on to a Biblical worldview is becoming harder to those believers who dare to be honest about recent genetic research which is – unfortunately for Christians – confirming the evolutionary story beyond reasonable doubt – as do the other areas of historical science -paleontology etc etc.
    Denis Alexander the Francis Collins etc seem to be right about the creation science position being untenable. On the other hand, those who want to be honest about the theology of the New Testament – Grudem etc – can see that the theistic evolutionists look unrealistic when it comes to shoehorning evolution into the Bible.

  5. Paul says:

    Does Orthodoxy mandate that the historicity of the Genesis account be held to the same standard as the historicity of the resurrection? That is to say, does a young earth creationist have theological ground on which to claim that if you deny the math in Genesis, then you must deny the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection?

  6. Steve Drake says:

    Does orthodoxy mandate that the historicity of the Virgin Birth be held to the same standard as the historicity of the Resurrection? Does orthodoxy mandate that Jesus’ birth line through both parents go directly back to Adam and Eve be held to the same standard as the historicity of the resurrection? Does an old-earth creationist have theological ground on which to claim that Christ’s work in Creation included all manner of natural evil before Adam even sinned, and then claim this has no relevance to the gospel?

  7. Evolution requires that it be undirected for it to be really evolution. But theistic evolution requires that the undirected process be directed by God. Not only that evolution requires that anything that is seen be created from something that is seen. This is on sharp contrast to Hebrews 11:3.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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