Creation and Evolution (Part 13)July 15, 2013 Time: 00:10:24
Concord with Evolutionary Biological Theories
We have been talking now for several lectures about various interpretations of Genesis 1. Now we come to a second major section of this excursus that we are undertaking on Doctrine of Creation and the origin and development of biological complexity by looking at the concord of the biblical doctrine with evolutionary biological theories.
By way of introduction, we want to look at the scientific evidence that is pertinent to the origin of life and the evolution of biological complexity. As we do so, it is very important to remember that our concern here is not to present some sort of design argument for the existence of God or indeed a design argument for any sort of intelligent designer. We are not doing natural theology here. We did that when we surveyed arguments for the existence of God. Rather, here we are doing systematic theology. We are not doing natural theology, we are doing systematic theology. We are asking, “Given the truth of divine revelation in the Bible, how is the scientific evidence concerning the origin and evolution of biological complexity to be integrated with our theology?” As thinking Christians we want to have a world and life view that integrates what modern science tells us about the world with our theology. So the project here is essentially integrative: how shall we understand the world in terms of what our theology teaches and in terms of what modern science teaches? How are these to be made consonant with each other? So our concern here is not with any kind of an argument for the existence of God but rather with laying out a Christian perspective on these scientific theories.
Compatibility of Biblical Theism with Evolutionary Biology
Let’s go to the subject of the compatibility of biblical theism with evolutionary biology. From what I have already said, I think it is evident that once you move away from the literal, consecutive seven-day interpretation of Genesis 1, Genesis 1 doesn’t really say anything about how God created life on earth. The Genesis account doesn’t say anything, really, when you read it about the mechanisms, if any, that God used in creating biological complexity. In fact, in two places in the narrative, the account says that God declared “let the earth bring forth” vegetation or terrestrial animals1 which suggests that they may indeed have natural causes which God may have used in bringing these things forth. He didn’t just say “let there be” vegetation and land animals but he said “let the earth” bring these things forth. So there may be natural mechanisms that God used in bringing about biological complexity. So it seems to me that, unless you adopt the literal interpretation of Genesis 1, there is no incompatibility between Genesis 1 and scientific theories about the origin and evolution of life.
Some Christians would disagree with this because they would say that according to the standard theory of evolution today – what is typically called Neo-Darwinism – the mutations that drive evolution forward are random and therefore they cannot be occurring for a purpose or be designed to occur.2 On the standard Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, random mutations occur in organisms which bring about variations and then natural selection will weed out those variations that are not conducive to reproduction and survival so that those variations which are helpful to the survival of the animal in which they occur will be preserved and the deleterious ones will be eliminated. Thus, evolution is explained by means of these mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection operating on the variations brought about by random mutations. It is a very clever theory, I think, when you think about it. It is a very clever way of explaining how evolutionary change could take place over time. Some people will say that this theory is inherently incompatible with biblical theism because the mutations are said to be random and therefore they cannot be directed by God or occurring for a purpose. That will be the issue that I am going to address next time. We don’t have time to address that now but I have set the table.
Question: Would this include the evolution of humans from non-humans?
Answer: Right. I don’t think that you have in Genesis, in the story of the creation of man, again, a sort of literal account. It is a very metaphorical account. I don’t think anybody thinks that God literally bent down and did CPR through Adam’s nose when it says “he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”3 This is a figurative account. So when it says that Adam is created out of the dust of the earth, if this is a figurative narrative, that could well describe pre-human hominid forms – the material stuff out of which these are made. So, unless you take this in a very literal way, I don’t think it is clear that even human evolution would be incompatible with biblical theism.
Followup: You would suggest Eve as well? The whole story of the rib – that God caused Adam to fall asleep and he took one of his ribs, closed him up and created Eve out of it4 – what is that? Is that just pure mythology?
Answer: Right, the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib would be another example, I think, that seems to be clearly figurative. I don’t think that we are to imagine that Adam fell asleep and that God did surgery on Adam and took out one of his ribs and turned that into a human being. This seems to be figurative language.
Followup: I believe that. But, OK, I’ll disagree with you on that. I just don’t think it’s compatible with inerrancy, that’s all.
Answer: That depends on how literally you are going to take the account and that goes back to the first part of the class, right? Not this part. Now we are asking “How do you make sense of the concord between evolutionary theory and Genesis 1?”
Question: [off-mic ]But that is in Genesis 2, not Genesis 1.
Answer: All right, Genesis 2 – between Genesis and modern science. That will be a question of how literal you take the account. But that is the question we already discussed and put behind us. If you take a literal interpretation of these accounts then clearly they are incompatible with a modern evolutionary approach. But what I’ve argued is that there are good reasons to think these are not to be interpreted literally and the very example you give of the creation of man and woman is surely one of the best examples of something that seems very figurative. Since God doesn’t have a body he can’t blow into Adam’s nose and make him come alive. It is a very anthropomorphic sort of account that seems figurative. But that is in the past now. What we want to look at now is whether or not modern science says things that would be incompatible with a biblical account not taken literally.
We will entertain these questions next time and we will then be exploring what modern science has to tell us about these mechanisms of mutation and natural selection and their ability to produce biological complexity.5
1 cf. Genesis 1:11, 24
3 cf. Genesis 2:7
4 Genesis 2:21-22
5 Total Running Time: 10:24 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)