Creation and Evolution (Part 14)

July 22, 2013     Time: 00:37:57

In our lesson, we have been looking at the creation-evolution debate. We spent many lectures looking at Genesis 1 where our primary goal was to understand what the original author of Genesis meant by this passage. We surveyed a number of different interpretations and offered criticisms of each one of them. In the end, I remained undecided. I did not take a position as to which one I thought was the best. I still have an open mind and am still exploring these. But we did see there is a range of options available today to the Bible believing Christian. We do not need to be put into a box and think that there is just one interpretation of Scripture with regard to origins that is incumbent upon the faithful, Bible believing Christian.

Now we have turned to a discussion of the concord of biblical teaching with evolutionary biology. By way of introduction, I said that, except for the Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1 (that is to say, six consecutive 24-hour day creationism), Genesis 1 is compatible with evolutionary biological theories. That is not to say that those theories are true. It is just to say that you could be a Bible believing Christian and also believe in the theory of biological evolution that is accepted today. Indeed, once you move away from the Literal Interpretation, it is striking that Genesis doesn’t say how God created the life on earth. Indeed, in two places it says God declared “let the earth bring forth” vegetation and fruit trees or terrestrial animals suggesting that there may have been indeed natural causes involved in bringing these things forth.[1] So I don’t think this conclusion at this point should be at all controversial. We’ve already surveyed those interpretations and we saw that some of them were motivated by trying to find an interpretation that was compatible with evolutionary theory. Remember we called that concordism where someone tries to read the narrative in light of modern science with the goal of trying to show the concord between modern science and this biblical passage. So it is hardly surprising that many of these non-literalistic interpretations would be compatible with contemporary evolutionary theory. That is what they were designed for in some cases. We criticized them for that because we think we need the narrative to be read in light of its own author and audience rather than have modern science imposed on it.


Question: Please make that distinction when you talk about evolution – the difference between how evolution is defined, macro, micro and those definitions. When you use the word “evolution,” what do you mean by that?

Answer: I will say more about that in a minute but what I am speaking of here would be standard neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Clearly, if you take the literal view that the world was created in six 24-hour days then those two are incompatible. I am not, again, saying anything about the truth of that theory. I am just saying that if you don’t have the Literal Interpretation – if you adopt for example Blocher’s Literary Framework view[2], or Miller and Soden’s Hebrew Myth View[3] – then clearly those are not incompatible with evolutionary theory. That is what those authors were thinking when they came up with those interpretations. But we will define the theory more closely as we proceed.

Question: One basic inconsistency, even if you hold to long-earth days or you jettison the six literal days, is you have problems with kindness of pairs and reproductive pairs and irreducible complexity in systems.[4]

Answer: OK, now I think you are getting into the truth of evolutionary theory. We will speak to that but all I am talking about here is compatibility. I am just saying that if a person, say, believes Henri Blocher’s Literary Framework view, is that compatible with being a Darwinist about biology? Well, it seems to me that it is because on Blocher’s view, this isn’t intended to be a chronological account; it is just a literary framework and it doesn’t tell you how the things were actually brought into being. That is not to say that evolutionary theory is true; it is just to say that an evolutionary theory wouldn’t disprove Blocher’s view. You could hold both if you want to.

Question: Last time we talked about Adam and Eve and they are clearly defined in Genesis. How are Adam and Eve and their story and the Garden of Eden and all of that compatible with evolution?

Answer: Right, this question I think deserves more discussion later on because some of the contemporary theistic evolutionists have argued that the biological theory of evolution is incompatible with an original human pair Adam and Eve. Yet, the Scriptures seem to think of Adam and Eve as literal historical individuals. They are connected by the genealogies with other persons who are indisputably historical and there is no suggestion that there is some kind of a break there. However figurative or metaphorical the creation of Adam and Eve might be in Genesis, they do seem to be historical persons. So one would need to deal with this objection that evolutionary theory is incompatible with a historical Adam and Eve. I need to look into that some more because it is not clear to me that if a person thinks that Adam and Eve were created through the process of evolution (say, God caused mutations that caused a hominid form to evolve to a brain capacity and a physical capacity that could now be the seat of a human soul and then God imparted to that body a human soul that then becomes a genuine human being) then it is not clear to me why there couldn’t be an original Adam and Eve of that sort. This is essentially the Catholic view.[5] Even though our human bodies are a result of biological evolution, you do not have a real human being until there is a soul united with the body and that is a special creation of God that occurs at a specific time in the past and that therefore you have a historical Adam and Eve. It is not clear to me why these theistic evolutionists think that that is impossible. I think their arguments are targeting someone who thinks that there was an original Adam and Eve that were special creations ex nihilo by God. I think they are saying that is incompatible with the genetic evidence. But I don’t see how that would be contrary to what the Catholic view is, for example. So that needs to be explored further.

Random Mutations

Some Christians would disagree with what I’ve said about the compatibility of evolutionary theory with the biblical account. I am a little surprised that nobody raised this objection but I will now raise it myself. Because, according to the standard theory of evolution, the mutations which serve to drive the evolutionary process forward are random and because they are random, the argument is, therefore they cannot be designed. Given that the mutations that drive evolution are randomly occurring, this is incompatible with saying that evolution occurs for a purpose or is designed by God or occurs for some sort of an end.

But this allegation, I think, involves a fundamental and very important misunderstanding of what evolutionary biologists mean by the word “random.” When biologists say that the mutations that are responsible for evolutionary change occur randomly they do not mean “by chance” or “purposelessly.”[6] If they did mean that then evolutionary theory would be enormously presumptuous because science is just not in a position to say with any sort of justification that the mutations that occur in the history of life occur for no purpose or are “undesigned” or that there is no divinely intended direction or goal of the evolutionary process. How could anybody say, on the basis of scientific evidence, that the whole scheme was not setup by a provident God to arrive eventually at homo sapiens on the planet Earth? How could a scientist know that God hasn’t intervened periodically in the process of evolution to cause mutations that were crucial to important evolutionary transitions? For example, the transition from reptiles to birds – how could the evolutionary biologist know that that mutation wasn’t caused by God with a view toward advancing the process?

In fact, if you have a God with divine middle knowledge (and remember when we talked about omniscience, middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what would happen contingently under any circumstances) then in order to set up the evolutionary process with human beings as the goal, he wouldn’t even be required to supernaturally intervene along the way because God could have known “if I were to set up these initial conditions governed by these laws of nature, then homo sapiens would evolve as a result given these conditions and laws by random mutation and natural selection.” And so God put into place just those laws and just those initial conditions. I hope that it is obvious that science is in no position whatsoever to say justifiably that the evolutionary process was not under the providential direction of a God endowed with middle knowledge. It wouldn’t even require miraculous interventions.

I think if evolutionary biologists were using the word “random” to mean “undesigned” or “purposeless” then evolutionary biology would not be science, it would be philosophy. Because it is scientifically impossible to say that this process is “undesigned” or purposeless. But the evolutionary biologist is not, in fact, using the word “random” in that sense. This fact is ignored both by creationist critics of theistic evolution and also by secular apologists for naturalistic evolution. But it became very clear to me in my preparations for my debate with the very eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala on the viability of intelligent design in biology.[7] According to Ayala, when evolutionary biologists say that the mutations are random, they do not mean occurring by chance. What they mean, rather, is that they occur irrespective of their benefit to the host organism. The sense in which the mutations are random is that they occur irrespective of their benefit to the organism in which they take place. In other words, the mutations don’t take place in such a way that they are for the benefit of the organism in which they take place – some of them are good but most of them are deleterious (most of them are disastrous) for the organism in which they take place. So the mutations are random simply in the sense that they occur irrespective of their usefulness to the organism.

Now, this is incredibly significant. I hope you see the gravity of this. The scientist, despite the impression given to the contrary by people on both sides of this debate, is not making the presumptuous philosophical claim that biological mutations occur by chance and that, therefore, the evolutionary process is undirected or purposeless.[8] Rather, all he means is that the mutations don’t occur with the benefit of their host organism in mind, so to speak. If you take “random” to mean simply irrespective of their benefit to the host organism then randomness isn’t incompatible with purpose or design or direction. Alvin Plantinga has made precisely this same point in his newest book Where the Conflict Really Lies.[9] Plantinga believes that there is not even a superficial conflict between evolutionary biology and theism. He chastises scientists who have recklessly asserted that, according to evolutionary biology, the evolutionary process is undirected or purposeless. Certainly such claims are legion. But he says such claims are not properly part of the biological theory itself. Rather they are what he calls a philosophical add-on, an extra scientific assertion reflecting the personal philosophy of the scientist.[10] In support of this, Plantinga quotes the very prominent evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr who wrote, “When it is said that a mutation or variation is random, the statement simply means that there is no correlation between the production of new genotypes and the adaptational needs of an organism in a given environment.”[11] In other words, this is exactly the same definition of “random” that Ayala gave; namely, that the mutations occur irrespective of the needs of the host organism and whether they are of benefit to that organism.

This definition of random is wholly compatible with God’s causing mutations to occur with a purpose or a certain end in view. For example, suppose that God in his providence causes a mutation to occur in a certain animal not for the benefit of that animal but to produce easy prey for its predators because he wants them to flourish. Well, in that case, the mutation is random – it doesn’t occur for the benefit of the host organism – but it is not purposeless, undirected, or by chance. God caused it to produce a maladapted organism that would produce easy prey for its predators. Or even think of this. Suppose God, in his middle knowledge, caused an adaptation because he knew that it would produce a fossil which I would eventually discover and be, thereby, inspired to go into the career of paleontology which God had called and wanted me to go into. Clearly, in such a case, the mutation would be both purposeful and yet, in this technical sense, random.

So, unless you adopt a literal interpretation of Genesis 1, which I’ve said I don’t think we are obligated to do, there is just no conflict between the Bible and standard evolutionary biology. What that means is that the Christian is open to follow the evidence where it leads. The Christian can be open-minded about this and follow the evidence where it leads. In this respect, the Christian has a tremendous advantage over the atheist. As Alvin Plantinga points out, for the atheist, evolution is the only game in town! So, no matter what the evidence, no matter how improbable the odds, he has got to believe it because that is all there is. So the atheist can’t be open-minded to follow the evidence where it leads. The naturalistic biologist Richard Lewontin has said the following.[12] Listen carefully to this quotation from Lewontin, he is a naturalist: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories.” What is a just-so story? The term comes from Rudyard Kipling who would tell fairy tales and then he would conclude these fairy tales by saying “and it happened just so.” Evolutionary biologists have shown themselves to be extremely creative and imaginative in inventing what are called just-so stories to explain how some biological adaptation came about even though there is no evidence whatsoever that that is how it actually happened. What Lewontin says is,

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.[13]

So what Lewontin is saying is that it is because of their materialistic, physicalistic, naturalistic presuppositions that they are led to their evolutionary constructs no matter what the evidence says. In this respect, the Christian is not so restricted. The Christian can be genuinely open-minded unlike the naturalist like Lewontin and therefore can follow the evidence where it leads.


Question: It seems like this is sort of a new definition for the word “random.” It is not the normal definition that we would normally think of day in and day out. Maybe I have been influenced by the secular thought, but my hunch would be that if you polled, say, the top 25 evolutionary biologists in the country that most of them would not subscribe to that and maybe Ayala is just sort of philosophically enlightened. Are you saying that a majority of evolutionary biologists would subscribe to this definition of “random?”

Answer: I think that if you press them on this issue, that they would quickly give up these philosophical, sloppy claims about randomness meaning by chance or undirected and they would embrace the definitions that both Ernst Mayr and Ayala give. These are two of the most esteemed evolutionary biologists in the 20th century. It is striking that they both independently explained that this is what we mean when we say “random.” I know from experience how scientists, especially in popular level books and in television programs, make sloppy statements that are not scientifically correct. So I suspect there is a big disconnect between what goes on in the public consumption of science and what these fellows would actually say in a scientific meeting or in a peer-reviewed journal when pressed for strict scientific precision. Otherwise, the theory becomes philosophy. It would become impossible for the scientist to prove that the mutations are random in the sense that they occur for no purpose or that they are undirected. That would make it philosophy. I think that these scientists have more sense than that when they are doing careful work and indeed the definitions of Mayr and Ayala seem to suggest that.

Followup: If biological evolution were purely random or undirected then that is incompatible with Christian theology or philosophy right?[14]

Answer: Yes.

Followup: Because we do believe that God directs things.

Answer: Right. We believe that God has created things for a purpose. The providence of God superintends the world. Therefore, to say that these things occur purposelessly or without any telos, or goal, in mind I think would be incompatible with Christian thinking.

Question: If evolution is correct like you are saying, there were people or animals which preceded Adam and Eve. So death would be in the world prior to Adam and Eve. But in the Bible it says Adam and Eve, had they not eaten the apple, it is implied that they would live on forever.

Answer: OK. Here we are getting into other issues. The question is whether or not the death that is spoke of in Genesis 2 and Romans 5 is biological death.[15] I don’t see any reason to think that that is the case. Adam and Eve don’t drop over dead after they eat the fruit of the tree but they are expelled from the Garden lest they eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. In Romans 5, I feel as certain of almost anything that Paul is talking there about spiritual death. That spiritual death came into the world through Adam. But I don’t think there is any suggestion that Adam couldn’t have had these sorts of pre-human predecessors that were mortal. So I don’t think that the biblically faithful Christian is forced to say that there was no death in the world prior to the fall. I don’t want to repeat all of the different interpretations that we went through of Genesis 1 but just emphasize again that, among Bible believing Christians who teach at our most conservative Bible colleges and seminaries, there is a wide-range of opinions about how to interpret these passages that are not all 24-hour, six day creationists.

Question: You mentioned earlier about the possibility that evolution could have been a process by which God formed certain pre-human hominid forms and then instilled the image of God on them. I was going to lend support to that. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis makes that very same point in the chapter on the fall of man.[16] He said that one possibility is that God used the evolutionary process to create the kind of being that he wanted and then instilled the image of God upon him and he said this is perfectly consistent with Christian theology and is not something that somehow refutes what we believe.

Answer: I think it is especially easy for someone who is a dualist of soul and body. If you think that human beings are not fully human unless they are a soul and a body then it is very easy to see how the body could resemble other primates and have similar DNA and things of that sort but it is not human until God places in it a soul that is distinctively, as you say, in God’s image and therefore fully human.

Question: If the Christian doctrine of creation can be satisfied by God sprinkling random mutations into nature and that results in the current level of biological complexity, does that undermine the design argument?

Answer: First, let me say by way of repetition, right now we are not doing apologetics. We are not trying to craft a design argument. We are doing systematic theology here. We are asking, “How should the Christian theologian view the question of origins in light of the Bible and the scientific evidence?” So even if you were right, that isn’t germane to what we are saying now. But would this undermine a design argument? I don’t think it necessarily would and here I am thinking of guys like William Dembski and others who are quite willing to embrace the doctrine of common descent – that all forms of life today are descended from a primordial ancestor – and yet they will argue strenuously that this very process requires intelligent design.[17] Often they will say even if there are no miraculous interventions you can still run a design inference. If you look at the work of people like William Dembski, Michael Behe, and others in the intelligent design movement, they are pretty emphatic that they are not arguing for creationism. Now, some of them are creationists and some of them do think that God has miraculously and supernaturally intervened to sprinkle these special mutations, as you say, around but many of them don’t think that and yet still think you can have a good design argument.

Question: I am no expert on the process of mutation but my understanding is you either have radiation damage or some kind of miscopying event where one of your codes changes from an A to a T or whatever – you get wrong information – and I think scientists feel like that process really is by chance. So I am puzzled that any biologist would give up on claiming that they do mean that it is by chance.

Answer: Well, I have quoted them – some of them most eminent. If they are making these more radical claims then I think they are doing philosophy and not science and they need to be called on the carpet for it.

Question: I don’t mean to be argumentative or certainly disrespectful . . .

Answer: OK, that was quite a preamble! [laughter]

Followup: In my humble opinion, I do think that you and Dr. Plantinga are simply cherry picking a definition here that suits your particular argument. If you look at statements for example that have been made by these two individuals under other circumstances they have said exactly the opposite – that this process is by chance.

Answer: Let me say this in response to that. There are certain other statements by Ayala where he says “I don’t think that these mutations were caused by God with the view of bringing about these things.” But the reason he says that (if you read his work which I have) is not because they are random; it is because of the problem of evil. When he looks at the world, particularly the insect world which is so grotesque with its macabre sorts of creatures eating each other (he gives the example of the praying mantis where the female, after copulating with the male, eats off the head of the male), he says how could a loving and good God have designed these kinds of creatures that are so gross and macabre? He says this must be the result of chance. So he sees Darwin as enabling the theist to escape the problem of natural evil.[18] So it is a quite different motivation in that case. So you would need to look at these statements more carefully to see the context. But I would just reiterate what I said earlier. I know there is legion the statement saying it is by chance, but I suspect these are the sort of sloppy, popularistic stuff that is intended for the press and the popular audience that they would back away from pretty quickly if they were pressed by their colleagues for scientific precision.

Question: One objection that I hear a lot from atheists about the compatibility of evolution and Christianity is that we Christians believe God is perfect so why would he use this supposedly elaborate and wasteful, so they say, process of evolution to create people? Why would a perfect God do something inefficient like that?

Answer: These sorts of questions are philosophical questions, right? These are extra scientific questions. The question of the week on website is about this very subject.[19] There is a person from Germany who writes in and says “an all perfect being would choose the best way to create and the best way to create would not be through evolution.” So he uses this very argument.[20] But insofar as the anti-theist is appealing to the wastefulness or the inefficiency of evolution, there I think the response of Thomas Morris, the Christian philosopher, is spot on target.[21] He says efficiency is a value only for a creature who has either limited time or limited resources or both and therefore needs to marshal his resources and use his time in the most efficient way. But for an infinite being like God who has unlimited resources and unlimited time, efficiency is simply not a value. It is not important. So I don’t think the argument from efficiency has much weight. I think it construes of God as a sort of finite engineer whose main goal is to produce this most efficiently functioning process and I don’t think we should think of God in the pattern of an engineer much less one of finite time and resources.

Question: On a scientific note, Lee Spetner writes in his book Not By Chance[22] that changes in biological beings occur because of the environment unzipping, in effect, a prepackaged genetic package. The changes don’t occur with just small incremental changes in the DNA – there is already packaged DNA like in the case of the feathered moth when there was dirt in the atmosphere and that the one version of the moth became more predominant than the other. The feathered moth didn’t evolve, devolve or revolve.

Answer: The proportions of light and dark moths in the population changed. What you are talking about here is dealing more with the truth or the evidence for evolution. We will look at that later. All I have wanted to talk about up to now is simply the question of compatibility, not the question of the truth of evolutionary theory. What I am asking is, “If evolutionary theory were proven to be true or if you think it is true does that mean you have to abandon biblical theism?” My claim would be only if you are a literal, six day creationist. Otherwise, there isn’t any incompatibility.

Next time we will look at the question of methodological naturalism – to what extent the scientist needs to be committed to naturalism as a methodological assumption.[23]

[1] cf. Genesis 1:11,24

[2] See Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (InterVarsity Press, 1984)

[3] See Johnny V. Miller, John M. Soden, In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012)

[4] 5:14

[5] “. . . the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – [but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pope Pius XII, “Encyclical Humani Generis”, #36, given on August 1950. See accessed January 21, 2013).

[6] 10:09

[7] For a video of this debate, see (accessed July 23, 2013).

[8] 15:10

[9] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)

[10] “There is no real conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution. What there is, instead, is conflict between theistic religion and a philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific doctrine of evolution: the claim that evolution is undirected, unguided, unorchestrated by God (or anyone else).” (Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p. xii.)

[11] Ernst Mayr, Towards a new Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 98. as quoted in Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p. 11.

[12] 19:49

[13] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and billions of demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997 (a review of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark). Available online to subscribers only at

[14] 25:07

[15] cf. Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12-14, 17

[16] “For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man . . . Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say "I" and "me", which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgements of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. This new consciousness ruled and illuminated the whole organism . . .” C. S. Lewis, Chapter 5 “The Fall of Man”, The Problem of Pain, 1940.

[17] 30:08

[18] See Francisco Ayala, Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2007).

[19] See Q&A #301 “An Evolutionary Argument against (Christian) Theism” at (accessed July 23, 2013).

[20] 34:59

[21] “. . . what reason do we have to hold that efficiency is a great-making property at all ? . . . What is the property of being efficient, anyway? An efficient person is a person who husbands his energy and time, achieving his goals with as little energy and time as possible. Efficiency is a good property to have if one has limited power or limited time, or both. But apart from such limitations, it is not clear at all that efficiency is the sort of property it is better to have than to lack. On the Anselmian conception of God, he is both omnipotent and eternal, suffering limitations with respect to neither power nor time. So it looks as if there is no good reason to think that efficiency is the sort of property an Anselmian being would have to exemplify” Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 78.

[22] Lee M. Spetner, Not by Chance!: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution, (New York: Judaica Press, 1998)

[23] Total Running Time: 37:57 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)