December 15, 2017

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 6- Moving Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes!
Chapter 6- Moving Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate

By Denis O. Lamoureux

In this chapter Denis asserts that there are at least five basic positions on the origin of the universe and life.  So we don’t have to be locked into only two positions and “either-or” thinking.  They are:

  1. Young earth creation
  2. Progressive creation
  3. Evolutionary creation
  4. Deistic evolution
  5. Dysteleological evolution

He notes that the topic of origins is not limited to these 5, but he feels these are the best-known categories familiar to evangelical Christians in North America; his target audience.  The chapter is summarized in Denis’ Figure 6-1, which I have re-created here.  Denis then gives a summary of each position.

Figure 6-1. Positions on the Origin of the Universe and Life

Young Earth Creationism

Young earth creationism (YEC) believes God created the entire cosmos and every plant and animal in just six 24-hour days only 6,000 years ago.   They embrace scientific concordism and believe Genesis 1 gives a true scientific description that is accurate.  They reject cosmological, geological, and biological evolution and insist there is no actual scientific evidence to support them.  Typically, surveys among Americans claiming to be born-again-Christians show nearly 90% believe the world was created in one week and Genesis 1 is “literally true, meaning that it happened that way word-for-word”.

They believe that the majority of Christians throughout history hold that position.  They believe that Jesus himself confirms a strict literal meaning when he said, in responding to his critics in Matthew 19:4-5, the Lord asks: “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh?”  Paul also confirms a literal reading when in Romans 5 he draws parallels to Adam and Christ.

Progressive Creation

Progressive creationists accept that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the earth is 4.5 billion years old.  They believe that God created life sequentially by introducing different organisms at different times.  This view is also known as “old earth creation” or “day-age creation”.  They claim the “days” of Genesis 1 are actually long ages.  They hold that God used natural processes to create the inanimate aspects of the universe but living organisms were created by special miraculous interventions.

The best known proponent of progressive creation is Hugh Ross and his organization is Reasons to Believe .  He is an astronomer but still believes in scientific concordism.

Their mission statement is:

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature.

Ross’ main sidekick is Dr. Fazale “Fuz” Rana. Rana is a biochemist and does most of the heavy lifting with respect to biological evolution for the organization.

Evolutionary Creation

Evolutionary creationists believe God created the universe and life through the natural process of evolution.  The world did not arise from blind chance and our existence is not a fluke.  It was the Creator’s plan from the beginning to make a world featuring men and women who bear the image of God.  It is, of course, Denis’ position, and he says this about it:

This origins position is sometimes known as “theistic evolution”.  Personally, I don’t care for this term because it makes the noun “evolution” the most important category; and it turns the Greek noun theos, meaning “God” into merely a secondary adjective.  I find such an inversion in the priority of words to be completely unacceptable.  God is never subordinate to any scientific theory.

Evolutionary Creationists believe that the Creator ordains and sustains all natural processes in the world, including the evolutionary process.  This view of origins endorses the sciences of cosmological evolution, geological evolution, and biological evolution.  Therefore, these Christians believe that evolution is teleological.  It is planned and purposeful, and it has a final goal—the creation of men and women to have a personal relationship with the Lord.

Denis believes that the Embryology-Evolution Analogy is very helpful in appreciating how evolution can be seen as God’s method of creating life and us.  Your typical American evangelical has no problem accepting the gradual biologic process beginning with conception that leads to the “creation” of a new and unique human person.  They realize that Psalm 139:13 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” doesn’t mean every person is created by a supernatural intervention.  No does the gradual natural biologic process of embryology mean that God didn’t create each and every person.  Denis also says this about evolutionary creation and the spiritual life:

The analogy between embryology and evolution also assists evolutionary creationists to appreciate the appearance of our spiritual characteristics during human evolution.  Through our own personal development, each of us began to bear the Image of God, became morally accountable, and then committed sinful acts against our Creator and other humans. In a somewhat similar fashion, prehumen ancestors became fully human when they were given God’s Image and made morally responsible.  And like each of us, every one of them began to sin.

Deistic Evolution

Deism is the belief in an impersonal god.  The deistic god is not involved in the lives of men and women.  He never reveals himself personally through scripture, prayer, or miracles.  Deists claim that God started the process of evolution with the Big Bang and then stepped away from the universe.  The deistic god is also known as “The Watchmaker God” from the idea that he wound up the universe like a clock and lets it run down on its own without ever entering it.

Deism grew out of the Enlightenment and rationalism and flowered especially in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed this belief system, including John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington.  Many direct quotes from these Founders substantiate this claim.  Matthew Tindal’s Christianity as Old as the Creation  and Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason  are considered the defining texts of deism.  In the Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson excised all reference to the miraculous.  In a letter to Reverend Charles Clay , he described his results:

“Probably you have heard me say I had taken the four Evangelists, had cut out from them every text they had recorded of the moral precepts of Jesus, and arranged them in a certain order; and although they appeared but as fragments, yet fragments of the most sublime edifice of morality which had ever been exhibited to man”.

It is common for YEC and Progressive Creationist to accuse theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationist of deism.

Dysteleological Evolution

Dysteleological evolution is Denis’ term for evolution from the atheist’s viewpoint.  He says:

Dysteleological evolutionists claim that the universe and life evolved only through blind chance without any plan or purpose whatsoever.  Regrettably, many people today believe that this atheistic interpretation of evolution is the evolutionist position and held by all scientists.  Dysteleologists assert that humans are nothing but an unintended spin-off of biological evolution.  In other words, our existence is just an accident and a mistake.  These evolutionists believe that there is no ultimate right or wrong and that life is ultimately meaningless… God is merely a figment of human imagination… the Bible is just a fairy tale… Miracles like Jesus rising from the grave after his death are said to be nothing but fantasies concocted by wishful thinking.

Denis asserts his summary as illustrated in Figure 6-1 demonstrates that there are more than just two simple positions on origins.  He says it proves that the so-called “evolution” vs. “creation” debate is misguided and a mistake; the debate is a false dichotomy.  The figure demonstrates that there are at least four different types of creationists and three kinds of evolutionists.  Two views of origins believe in God AND accept evolution.  Three positions are Christian positions on origins—young earth creation, progressive creation, and evolutionary creation.  In Denis’ opinion, the key to understanding the origins debate is biblical interpretation.  The assumption held by most Christians is that Scripture features scientific concordism and that’s why they reject evolution.

Well, dear readers, do you think Denis framed the issues well?

Is his Figure 6-1 a useful illustration that leads one away from a simple dichotomy?

I’d be interested to hear from atheists if you think Denis was being fair or polemical.

Same question to any YECs, is Denis fair to the other positions, or he is slanted in this presentation?

Comments

  1. Pellicano Solitudinis says:

    Very helpful table.

    I belong to a church that subscribes to the YEC theory but I am increasingly unconvinced. Reading this post, I think I am most comfortable with the evolutionary creationist line of thinking.

    • Yes, very helpful table.

      My main issue with YEC-ers these days is the sense I get from them that “if you don’t believe in a 6000 year old earth and total creationism in 6 days, I’m not sure I’d call you a Christian.” Those of us who believe God might’ve used some sort of evolutionary process and perhaps over a LONG period of time…well, we’re not heretics.

    • Hm. I found the chart unhelpful and a little biased. For instance, Genesis 1 as “fairytale” is a fairly hard nosed, dishonest stance lobbied by YECs against others. An atheist can still believe it’s ancient science and ancient poetry and tells spiritual truths to it’s intended audience.

      • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

        Fairytales often contain ancient truths as well.

      • For the last two columns under interpretation of Genesis 1, I would say

        1. ancient poetry
        2. meant to convey a view of the deity
        3. an ancient understanding of the physical world

        I wouldn’t call Genesis 1 a fairy tale on the simple grounds that there is no conflict then resolution. Genesis 2 is a tale. BTW I fall strictly in the last column.

  2. Denis was being polemical.

    Evolution isn’t ‘random’ or ‘blind chance’: It operates according to pretty predictable rules. Read “Weird Life” by David Toomey; he says that in the confluence of liquid water (a mild solvent in which large molecules can freely circulate) and carbon (a highly variable, endlessly recombinable element that bonds in complicated ways) it was almost inevitable that ‘life’ would develop. He suggests that we can probably guess that extraterrestrial life, if it exists, will involve liquid water and be based on carbon (the only other candidate would be silicon, which can recombine but to which oxygen would be a deadly poison: a silicon-based lifeform exposed to the tiniest amount of oxygen would turn to sand).

    And as for “there is no ultimate right or wrong” or “life is ultimately meaningless”, I don’t agree. It’s pretty easy to construct a working system of morality on the basis of knowing you’re likely (no, not *certain*, but *likely*) to be treated better by other humans if you treat them well (children learn this (or don’t) at a very young age), that forming and preserving good ties to others enhances your own sense of (and actual, physical) well-being.

    People who *believe* in gods can’t agree on right or wrong or the meaning of life. Likewise, they have changed what they believe to be right or wrong or meaningful across time. Or, frankly, a lot of what they think is right or wrong isn’t actually so. (Pork, mixed fibers and menstrual blood are not, in fact, ‘unclean’.) So I can’t say I see why the atheist view comes in for unique criticism.

    • “People who *believe* in gods can’t agree on right or wrong or the meaning of life”

      Actually, there is a pretty broad general agreement on ethics across religions.

      “It’s pretty easy to construct a working system of morality on the basis of knowing you’re likely (no, not *certain*, but *likely*) to be treated better by other humans if you treat them well.”

      What it doesn’t do is provide any reason or restraint for those who have the power to mistreat others and the independence of means with which to avoid the consequences. Pragmatism only goes so far.

      • “Actually, there is a pretty broad general agreement on ethics across religions.”

        So relations between religions are very peaceful then?

        “It’s pretty easy to construct a working system of morality on the basis of knowing you’re likely (no, not *certain*, but *likely*) to be treated better by other humans if you treat them well.”

        What it doesn’t do is provide any reason or restraint for those who have the power to mistreat others

        Yes it does. I just said why. And as it happens, religious people with power mistreat others all the time. It’s happening right now in Alabama.

        “…and the independence of means with which to avoid the consequences.”

        I don’t know that this means.

        “Pragmatism only goes so far.”

        Far enough.

        • Are relations between secularists peaceful? 😉 Quarreling is a *human* fault, regardless of one’s belief system.

          And people with power abuse those without it. Again, a human flaw in general. But those who claim to believe in an ultimate judgment and still do so are on the face of it, rather foolish…

          “…and the independence of means with which to avoid the consequences.”

          I meant to say, “they are so rich and powerful that tbey can treat everybody else like $#!t and get away with it.”

          • “Quarreling is a *human* fault, regardless of one’s belief system.”

            Yes. So glad we agree.

            “And people with power abuse those without it.”

            Yes. Again, we agree.

            “But those who claim to believe in an ultimate judgment and still do so are on the face of it, rather foolish…”

            I guess. But their foolishness doesn’t seem to stop them from doing it. So it’s kind of a non-issue.

            “I meant to say, “they are so rich and powerful that they can treat everybody else like $#!t and get away with it.”

            Yes, rich or powerful people regularly misuse their wealth or power to harm others. If they happen to also be religious believers, then that belief doesn’t seem to be much of a hindrance to them doing so. Religious people don’t seem notably kinder, nicer, more-truthful than anyone else. The opposite: They often have elaborate supernatural rationales for why their greed or violence is permissible or, indeed, divinely commanded.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Thanks for the reply, J. I agree, Denis was being polemical.

      • “Well, dear readers, do you think Denis framed the issues well?”

        No not really. He is conflating areas that don’t automatically overlap.

        Evolutionary theory describes the process of the biological diversity of life, not the origin of life itself (abiogenesis), much less the ultimate origin of the universe itself. Evolution is as fact. Abiogenesis is an ongoing object of research. The ultimate origin of the universe is s mystery (although we can detect and define certain processes that took place right up to the point where our instruments become compromised by the fact that they’re still part of the same universe we’re trying to see “outside of “.)

        So yeah this book comes off as a polemic which will not be taken very seriously.

        • James the Mad says:

          But on a practical level how many pastors, let alone parishioners, even know what abiogenesis is? And while science may view evolution, abiogenesis and the creation of the universe as separate disciplines, for many (most? almost all?) believers those are all part of the same question. So while he is technically conflating issues, for the purposes of the discussion at hand they’re already intertwined.

          As for the charge of being polemical? Perhaps. I did find his five basic positions to be consistent with my experiences in various discussions, though, so the idea behind the chart is sound.

          • Well if people who don’t know anything abut a subject would simply stop talking about it all our problems would be solved. Best of all would be for people to learn about the subject and then talk about it.

  3. flatrocker says:

    Mike,
    Thanks for this chart. Not sure how it might be accomplished, but it would be intriguing to include a Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic perspective. How might these perspectives change the categories listed in the first column? Or would it require new column definitions?

    • If memory serves, in Hinduism/Buddhism the universe is eternally existing, and the question of “creation” is moot. Islam, as a descendant of Christianity/Judaism, would probably fall in one of the left-hand to center columns (depending on the literalism of the particular Muslim being asked).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I thought Hinduism/Buddhism was more of a cyclical universe in an endless circle of creation, existence, destruction (resulting in the next universe’s creation). Time as circular instead of the Jewish idea of time as linear.

        “Eternally Existing” I associate with Aristotle.

        And each has its echo in secular cosmology:
        * Hoyle’s Steady State theory echoes Aristotle (plus “Prove Fred Wrong”).
        * The Big Bang (eventually ending at heat death or The Big Rip )echoes Jewish linear time.
        * The Pulsating Universe (which ends in a Big Crunch which becomes the next Big Bang) echoes Hindu/Buddhist circular time.

  4. Perhaps instead of “Internetmonk” we could consider a name change to “internetevolution.”
    _______

    Seriously, is this where Internetmonk has decided to make it’s stand? On the sandhill of evolution?
    Yeah I read the posts – and I remain a devout believer in 6 day creation because I’m a devout believer in the very words of Scripture – being “spirit breathed” by the very God who created us.
    ______

    At Internetmonk It appears the liberal drift continues apace. If the history of mainline churches are an indicator, the liberal drift ultimately leads to irrelevance.

    • More false equivalence, seneca. Denis is not a “liberal,” nor am I, nor is Scot McKnight, nor is Mike the Geologist, etc., etc. This is not about “liberal” vs. “conservative,” it is about how we read the Bible.

      You do not believe in “the very words of Scripture,” or you would believe there is a solid firmament over the earth with windows through which the rain and snow fall on a flat disk of an earth that sits on pillars. That is how the world is described in the OT.

      The problem with the 6-day creation position is first of all that it doesn’t read Scripture well. On so many levels.

      The second problem is that it doesn’t believe human learning can advance.

      Third, it has no clue how to reconcile the Bible with advances in human learning. It is simple fundamentalism with its head stuck in the sand.

    • “liberal drift ultimately leads to irrelevance”

      As does hyperconservatism. I can show you several breakaway “Catholic” congregations here in the DC metro area who steadfastly refuse to give up the Latin rite. To say they aren’t thriving is an understatement.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Us Four, No More, AAAAAAmen!” with Tridentine Mass and Rosaries?

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        This appears to run counter to my experience in the ATL. Latin masses are routinely very well attended. Of course, they are offered by parishes who remain in communion with their bishops who remain in communion with Rome.

        That is to say, they are not “breakaway”.

        “Breakaway” is never a good idea. Even the Big Ones in 451, 1054, and 1517. This from someone who’s done it several times in his life.

        That said, I have to admit I have more than a little attraction to Denis’ Dysteleological Evolution, and yeah, I think he’s being polemical. Dysteleological Evolution is kinda the terminus ad quem of Protestantism, or at least the 98% of Protestantism informed by Calvin and/or the radicals. Matter cannot be the channel of Grace. I mean, c’mon it’s just friggon’ water ferchrissake! It’s just wine! It’s just bread! Touva baked it this morning.

        Then you get jackasses like me who believe that it was the baptism that came first, and the water that came after. We don’t use water in baptism because it cleanses and, you know, it’s a symbol and all of that, but water displays the chemical characteristics it does so that it could finally be used to cleanse people of their sins.

        I’m sorry. Somebody peed in my coffee this morning.

        • Mule, you’re one of reasons I take the time to skim the comments. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

        • “Dysteleological Evolution is kinda the terminus ad quem of Protestantism, or at least the 98% of Protestantism informed by Calvin and/or the radicals. Matter cannot be the channel of Grace.”

          Have you read Calvin on the sacraments? He’s almost as Lutheran as Luther on them. 😉

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            Because of this comment I wasted 1 1/2 hours parsing Calvin’s 14th Chapter of Book 4 of his Institutes, Most of it appeared to be taken up with various late Medieval Catholic practices and beliefs such as communion in one element, transubstantiation, or confirmation. In typical lawyerly fashion he never comes right out and says what he means. What I took away from him was that Christ is truly received bodily by the elect by faith, whereas the rest of us poor Blodgetts just munch bread and wine.

            In many ways, Calvin appears to be more catholic than his subsequent followers and codifiers. For Calvin-ists, what counts is that One Great Flash Outpouring of Grace that Regenerates, apart from which nothing else really matters. This bolt-of-Jesus-lightning is entirely in the Father’s bailiwick, and is imparted supposedly in-mediately, although most Calvin-ists I know tie it to an intellectual illumination of the contents of the Bible. The reason I excluded Lutherans from my calumny of Protestants is that it was a Lutheran who told me “when I take the Sacrament, I preach the gospel to those other members besides my ear and my brain”. I could not imagine a Calvin-ist being so literal, although maybe Calvin, now that I’ve read him, could have made that statement.

            To Calvin’s credit, I do cite this snippet of apophaticism, as I find it altogether admirable: Now, should any one ask me as to the mode (of Christ’s presence in the elements), I will not be ashamed to confess that it is too high a mystery either for my mind to comprehend or my words to express; and to speak more plainly, I rather feel than understand it

            • You did the homework – I can’t ask for more. 🙂

            • Christiane says:

              Eeyore and Headless,
              thanks for this . . . . . I am one who finds the sacred in the simplicity and the complexity of Creation, and being sacramentally-oriented, I have no problem relating to God using matter as a channel of grace . . . . because of this:

              “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. Begotten of his Father before all worlds. God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God. Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father: By whom all things were made. Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven. AND WAS INCARNATE BY THE HOLY GHOST OF THE VIRGIN MARY, AND WAS MADE MAN”

              I have declared this ‘credo’ all of my life and at mass have knelt at the words ‘AND WAS MADE MAN’

              for me, the Incarnation is a very great mystery indeed with implications that many evangelicals have yet to ponder in depth and from the heart also

              • “for me, the Incarnation is a very great mystery indeed with implications that many evangelicals have yet to ponder in depth and from the heart also”

                Yes indeed, Christiane.

                Dana

    • Seneca, I often come to your defense here, but I think you did a bit of a knee-jerk at this post. This was a very helpful analysis of differing viewpoints, and the chart is a winner. This post does nothing more than offer Christians who don’t subscribe to total creationism (and who might be guilted/shamed into believing they MUST believe in total creationism or else they’re not truly Christians) some options to consider. This is VERY healthy to the body in whole.

      You said, “the liberal drift ultimately leads to irrelevance.” Actually, it’s the drift toward fundamentalism (left AND right) that leads to irrelevance. The YEC-ers will always have their share of believers, but their numbers will shrink as time goes on. (Yes, there are still people who believe in the Flat Earth.)

    • I remain a devout believer in 6 day creation because I’m a devout believer in the very words of Scripture

      Reason #1 I am no longer a devout believer in 6 day creation:

      Scripture’s very words do not teach a 6 day creation.

  5. Sounds like a spectrum of beliefs from top to bottom. I would imagine that there are quite a few combinations between and among the six that are listed, and folks may have beliefs from different way-points. But it does match my experience with respect to discussions I’ve had over the years. I probably am closest to theistic evolution.