Christianity and Theistic Evolution | A Presuppositionalist Critique

Updated: May 19

What is Theistic Evolution?

In the following article I will provide a philosophical, theological, and scientific critique of the idea known as theistic evolution. But before we can do that, we will need to define what the proponents of this perspective mean by “theistic evolution” — or “evolutionary creationism". This article is inspired by a book by the friendly people at the Discovery Institute.


[Theistic evolution is] the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans

BioLogos, Theistic Evolution: History and Beliefs


Theistic evolution specifically affirms the idea of universal common descent. This is distinct from the idea of 'variation within a kind' as found in creation literature. The following illustration provides a contrast:


Neo-Darwinism vs Creation

A belief in theistic evolution brings forth problems in three spheres of thought:


  1. Philosophical

  2. Theological

  3. Scientific


I'm going to try and discuss each of these issues in order, and point out issues that theistic evolution spawns. This article can also serve as a critique of neo-Darwinian evolution from a presuppositional perspective. The following video, although not entirely presuppositional in nature, offers a great overview of the issues that are at stake.



Before we dig into theistic evolution, I would like to recommend the following book which is a great resource for your library. Follow the link (click the image) and if you choose to purchase, Apologetics Central will also benefit.

The book received great reviews, including one from Scott Oliphint who I hold in high regard:


This volume fills a wide and expanding gap for Christians who continue to struggle with the relationship of evangelical Christianity to the claims of science. Specifically, for those who have rightly rejected the claims of unguided evolution, this book takes on the similar challenge of the possibility of theistic evolution. Scholarly, informative, well-researched, and well-argued, this will be the best place to begin to ferret out reasons for conflict among Christians who take science seriously. I highly recommend this resource.

K. Scott Oliphint


For more books on the subject, check out the following books:



Philosophical Issues with Theistic Evolution

The first question to ask the theistic evolutionist is what it is that led him/her to the belief in theistic evolution. Scripture does not at all lend itself to a theistic evolution interpretation. Reading Genesis 1, it is incredibly clear that God created each of the animals "according to its kind". There is no indication that God created matter, and from that single piece of matter created all life over a period of 4 billion years. The Biblical view reveals the creation of kinds of animals, and distinct from the creation of animals the creation of mankind in the image of God. Therefore, it's quite clear that it was not a deep reflection on God's special revelation that led the theistic evolutionist to believe in theistic evolution, it has to be a reflection on nature and the evidence which can be grouped into general revelation.


General revelation should be understood to mean that revelation which comes through observing nature, through seeing God's directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God's existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person. General revelation is distinct from "special revelation," which refers to God's words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as at Mount Sinai or at the baptism of Jesus. [1]

The Role of General Revelation

The role of general revelation is solely to leave men without an excuse for denying the God they know exists (Romans 1:18ff). If there is one thing that Paul teaches us of general revelation is that whatever its content may be we will suppress it because of our sinful nature. Natural man simply will not interpret nature in a way that is glorifying and consistent with the one true God revealed from it.

Total depravity teaches man that man is so consumed by sin that he suppresses the truth of God that is known by him through general revelation. There is an inability of the sinner to self-determine or incline to do good that results from his self-determination or inclining to evil [2]. The natural man, therefore, apart from special revelation will not interpret general revelation correctly.

The Role of Special Revelation

Special revelation specifically includes the revelation of the Trinity and their defined roles in salvation. Special revelation includes what is incumbent upon men beholden to the God who created them and what they must do in response to such truth. Special revelation provides men with the Gospel, who Christ is and what he accomplished at Calvary. The Gospel transforms the hearts of men, and the preaching of the Gospel is the means that God uses to bring men to repentance. The Christian who is renewed by the Gospel contained in God's special revelation, is now able to correctly view general revelation through the lens of special revelation.


A Christian Needs a Revelational Epistemology

Scripture necessitates a revelational epistemology. A revelational epistemology in short means that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ (Col. 2:8), and that we are therefore dependent on his revelation to obtain any form of knowledge. We have already alluded to two types of revelation: general and special revelation and we have shown that special revelation enjoys a position of primacy over and above that of general revelation due to the sinful nature of man.


Without special revelation, general revelation does man no good as man will not honour Christ in whom the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited. To elevate general revelation above or on par with special revelation (like the Roman catholic apologists like to do) effectively ignores the effects of sin and the necessity of the Gospel. The book of Romans is not one chapter long, and chapter one does not paint a great picture for natural man.


Everything we learn from general revelation, must therefore cohere with that revealed in special revelation. If we interpret something in general revelation that is in contradiction with special revelation, we need to revise our interpretation of the general revelation, and not the other way around. Jesus stressed this relative importance of His words as well:


Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Matthew 24: 34


For more on the role of special revelation and general revelation, check out the following our article on the topic.


But how do we interpret special revelation?

A common objection (or counter-example) to the above statement is that of geocentrism. The claim is that the Bible at face value teaches geocentrism and that the application of the above statements of general revelation and special revelation will effectively lead us to deny the clear evidence of heliocentrism in favour of the Biblical view of geocentrism.


To answer this question, we'll first need to analyse the concept of evidence. There is no such thing as brute facts. All evidence must first pass through an interpretive lens. Keeping this in mind, external evidence can never prove or disprove a person’s worldview in an absolute sense. The reason is simple: evidence is always interpreted in light of that person’s worldview. The evidence doesn’t “speak for itself”, it’s the interpretation that is significant and the interpretation is bound to be compatible with the worldview that produced it. This is inevitable. [3]

The Christian has a worldview with an epistemology based on revelation, a metaphysic and ethic. The Christian worldview is the only worldview that can offer a philosophy that can provide a sufficient grounding for the scientific method, knowledge, and what is generally called the preconditions of intelligibility. With the above in mind, the Christian worldview can provide a framework for evaluating the position of geocentrism vs heliocentrism and every other question of life. The underlying presupposition of the objection above is that the Bible clearly teaches geocentrism. Is this the case? Indeed not. We cannot let this presupposition go unexamined. Once we allow the Bible to talk for itself, we'll see that the issues addressed in the passages have almost nothing to do with some sort of cosmological model. In most cases the language used is observational in nature. We use this kind of language all the time: "The sun comes up, the sun goes down" etc. This does not reveal something about our cosmological model, it's simply stating what we observe. From this point we can mention three things:


  • The Bible does not teach explicit geocentrism.

  • The Bible provides a foundation from which we can examine the universe and develop a cosmological model, e.g. the heliocentric (or geocentric) model.

  • The cosmological model cannot contradict what the Bible does explicitly teach: e.g. that the sun doesn't move or that the sun doesn't exist :)


Remember that the interpretation must be compatible with the worldview that produces it. If you commit to an interpretation contrary to your worldview, you're in a self-refuting position.


Can we use "outside information" to interpret special revelation?

We are now touching on the issue of hermeneutics. Check out our article on the topic. We can use concepts and ideas not explicitly taught in the Bible (but justified in Scripture) as long as they are non-arbitrary and internally consistent (with each other and Scripture). To state this a bit clearer, the Bible is not a science textbook, nor is it a book on advanced logic. But the Bible provides a foundation for these principles, which we can then use to better understand the Bible. Already we can see the image of the hermeneutical spiral. This might be an important point of clarification: it's not that the Bible contains a lexicon for Biblical Hebrew or Greek, indeed it does not, but it provides a sufficient foundation for the use and study of language which can feed back into Biblical interpretation. What the hermeneutical spiral does not allow, however, is the importation of philosophical ideas that outright contradict Scripture or that are without a sufficient grounding as to make them arbitrary. Application to Theistic Evolution If the Christian wants to affirm theistic evolution, theistic evolution must be coherent with the rest of Scripture. We'll explore this a bit more when we reach the section on theology. Let's assume for the moment that theistic evolution is inconsistent with Scripture. The Christian affirming theistic evolution then needs to do one of two things:


  • Elevate general revelation above special revelation and reinterpret the Bible to accommodate his autonomous reasoning.

  • Affirm the validity of both the Scriptural position and theistic evolution, thereby being content with a contradiction.


The first position destroys the professed Christian's epistemology. Since special revelation is no longer the ultimate authority, the Christian has effectively destroyed his foundation for knowledge and tumbled himself into a self-refuting position. The second point suffers from contradictions and inconsistency, which also refutes the position.


Greg Bahnsen expands on the effects of Christians embracing the theistic evolution position:

The price of this bewitching compromise, the destination toward which this path of a golden mean leads-the cash-value of this bargain - was the enslavement of theology: "In so far as the theologian and evolutionist differ in their interpretation of the history of life... I agree with the evolutionist." This shall always be the outcome when a theologian abandons his firm presuppositional foundation and attempts to come to terms with his opponents on (allegedly) neutral ground; in actuality the compromise is constantly enacted on the opponent's grounds, and the theologian has lost his sure footing.
This is something the present-day advocates of theistic evolution should reflect upon with all due seriousness. They have everything to lose and nothing to gain by accommodating the theory of evolution, for at base it is nothing less than a totally anti-biblical religious presupposition. It is hard to know what legitimate grounds or motive Claus Westerman, for instance, could have in saying, "The concept of evolution is included in the course of creation." The proposals for theistic evolution by men like L. Harold De Wolf and Jan Lever are accompanied by the infection of heterodox exegesis and theological aberration, which certainly cannot bring health to the church and its dogma as hoped.
R.A. Quebedeaux mentions that a group of younger evangelicals in this day are evidencing an "increasing friendliness to modern science" through "mounting acceptance of theistic evolution in some form." The surrender of biblical epistemology to an internally incongruous, centaur-like concept like theistic evolution manifests a lamentable theological shortsightedness. In light of the cultural aftermath of evolutionary thinking (for example, relativism, decreased scientific integrity, pragmatism, the suppression of the individual in the interests of race, and secularization), it is highly ironic to find such a compromise in a group of men desirous of bringing the effects of Christianity to bear upon the world.

On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator, Dr. Greg Bahnsen


Bahnsen, as usual, is on point. We cannot surrender our epistemology to theistic evolution. The consequences are philosophically devastating, and as indicated by Bahnsen, will have severe ramifications for all spheres of life including ethics and theology.


Theological Issues with Theistic Evolution


We investigate whether the Bible teaches theistic evolution, whether the Bible is compatible with theistic evolution and lastly whether the Bible is explicit on the topic of creation (as opposed to not being explicit on geocentrism vs heliocentrism) We'll keep in mind that we are not allowed to embrace a contradiction as Christians.


Let's read Genesis 1: 11-13, 20-25

And God said,“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants[e]yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Summarised, the creation account contains the following undeniable conclusions:


  • God created.

  • God created in a specific order designated by days, accompanied by an evening and a morning.

  • God created every living thing according to its kind (in the quoted text it is repeated five times, it's not accidental, the meaning is as clear as it can get.)

  • At the end of every creation, God clearly stated that the creation is good.

  • The creation account is written in the form of historical narrative, and continues the narrative with a change in tone and structure for the entire book.


The theory of neo-Darwinian evolution rejects that God created, but rather that animals developed themselves through purely naturalistic processes. There are some theistic evolutionists that argue that God may have guided the process along, but neo-Darwinists are opposed to this idea. The whole motivation behind the formulation of the theory is to remove the need for a creator, so to reinsert the creator back into a method that does not need him defeats the purpose.


The theory of neo-Darwinian evolution (and theistic evolution) teaches that life developed in an uninterrupted sequence, in many case simultaneously (see illustration above). The Bible teaches that God created the animals according to their kinds in different days. Plants on day three, birds and fish on day five and animals and humans on day six, each according to their kind. The theory of neo-Darwinian evolution rejects at a fundamental level that there are kinds of animals. Every single animal and plant is related by a single common ancestor.


The theory of neo-Darwinian evolution (and theistic evolution) rejects that God created in a "good" way. Rather creation in their minds is plagued by a slow and grueling process of selfish survival, death, mutations and cancer, disease and violence. Contrary to this view, Scripture is clear that death and suffering came as a result AFTER creation at the fall of Adam and Eve, not BEFORE.


The theistic evolutions must insist that the creation narrative above is figurative and not literal. The reason for this is quite clear, because the literal reading of the text is obvious and stand in direct opposition with any view on theistic evolution. The theistic evolutionist must therefore believe that God is incapable of telling is how He created, as the account given of creation by the One Who was actually there, is not accurate. The implicit assumption that needs to be made is that God's revelation cannot be read and taken to mean what it clearly says.


Even though the text is not to be taken figuratively, even the figurative reading of the text fails because of the issue of death and suffering preceding sin described above. If death and suffering is not the result of Adam's sin, then God was wrong and Satan was right!

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2: 16-17


But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die..."

Genesis 3: 4


The theistic evolutionist attempts to get around the clear meaning of the text once again, by limiting the scope of the death in view to a spiritual death, and not a physical death. This stands in contradiction to Genesis 3:19, where God announces part of Adam's punishment for his transgressions:


By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:19


Returning to dust (or dying) is a clear consequence of sin, not something that was already part of creation.


The theistic evolution position or figurative reading of the creation account also deny the actual existence of the historical Adam. Turns Christian theology completely on its head. Without a literal Adam, what do we make of Christ's genealogy? What do we make of Paul's teaching regarding sin?

For if, because of one man's [Adam] trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:17


A denial of the first Adam inevitably leads to a denial of sin and the second Adam which negates the entire Christian message. The only reason some theistic evolutionists remain Christian is because of their inconsistencies.


In conclusion to the theological problem

Once we allow what we think we know from general revelation to gain authority over that of special revelation, it won't be long until we disregard almost everything about special revelation.


If the creation account cannot be believed for some reason and the Bible must be reinterpreted to accommodate theistic evolution, the rest of Scripture will soon fall as well. For example, on what basis would you believe that a donkey talked, an axe floated, a man rose from the dead? If we start with a autonomous human philosophy (that's self-refuting by the way), the conclusion logically cannot be something contrary to a autonomous human philosophy. Nothing in our experience tells us that humans can return from the dead, that animal can talk and that an axe can floated. Once we allow an autonomous philosophy to take precedence over Scripture, to be consistent we might as well throw out the whole of Scripture to our rational and eternal demise.


The descending spiral is clear. It begins with denying that God is speaking clearly in Scripture. It then continues to ask whether God is speaking clearly at all. Before you know it, you'll relegate the Bible to a position where it has no authority of speaking of reality.


Scientific Issues with Theistic Evolution


The adherents to theistic evolution will cite irrefutable proof of theistic evolution as their basis for trying to change Scripture away from its clear meaning. So what exactly does this scientific evidence entail? (Just a quick note, I fully expect that critics of this article will ignore all of the preceding text to focus solely on the information below, even though I feel the devastating blow was already dealt).


I've spent quite a bit of time reading up on the available resources for neo-Darwinian evolution, and the case for it is incredibly overstated especially on the internet. There are tons of resources available that can demonstrate (granting that the neo-Darwinists have a working epistemology, which they don't) given the assumptions and numbers the neo-Darwinsits have to work with, neo-Darwinism doesn't compute.


Let's start with the basics:


Uniformity of nature

The uniformity of nature is a presupposition that undergirds all of scientific enterprise and stand in need of justification. If no justification is offered, all of sciences might as well be discarded as blind faith. The Christian worldview can provide a justification for the uniformity of nature: God has revealed that He has created, that He has created in an orderly fashion and that He will continue to uphold the universe.


The theistic evolutionist who has elevated science and reason above the authority of Scripture and hence cannot appeal to Scripture for this justification. Jason Lisle writes the following in the Ultimate Proof of Creation:


But a theistic evolutionist must deny the Bible as his authoritative standard (because he rejects Genesis), and therefore cannot appeal to the Bible as the basis for his knowledge of God. As a last resort, the theistic evolutionist may say, “But I accept much of the Bible. I just don’t believe in a literal Genesis. So I do believe in uniformity based on the teaching of Scripture.” But this fails for two reasons. First, the same Bible that teaches uniformity also teaches that God created the universe in six days. It is arbitrary and inconsistent to accept one while denying the other. Second, the basis of uniformity is found in Genesis (e.g., Gen. 8:22), which a theistic evolutionist does not accept. Without biblical creation, the rational basis for uniformity is lost.

Dr Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation


Methodological Naturalism

“Methodological naturalism” is the view that religious commitments have no relevance within science: natural science itself requires no specific attitude to religion, and can be practised just as well by adherents of religious faiths as by atheists or agnostics. [4]


We already discussed the issues with this statement above for the theistic evolutionist. Without special revelation all forms of investigation fails as there is no longer a foundation for knowledge. Therefore, methodological naturalism fails as it cannot provide an non-arbitrary and self-refuting epistemology. Methodological naturalism fails to appreciate the issues with all philosophies that are not based on revelation from the triune God. As Greg Bahnsen would have put it, they are no epistemologically self-conscious.


The Fossil Record and Rock Layers

Granting all of the above [which should by now have cast tremendous doubt on theistic evolution for the Christian], what can possibly lead someone to reject the creation account in favour of theistic evolution? The answer I've most commonly heard has something to do with the fossil record and rock layers.


Both sides can quote experts that look at the same evidence that come to different conclusions. The reason for this is not because of something in the evidence, but rather in the presuppositions that they bring to the evidence. Like we stated before, all evidence will be interpreted in light of a worldview, and the interpretation of the evidence will always cohere with the worldview its viewed in. There are no brute facts.


First the fossil record:

Darwinian evolution would predict that new body plans originated in a stepwise process with small changes adding up to big differences. But what we find in the fossil record is abrupt appearance in a kind of top-down pattern. New body plans appear abruptly in the fossil record. We also do not find the required gradual species-to-species transitions.

Dr. Günther Bechly, Paleontologist


For a complete view of the fossil record and some great discussions on the topic, check out Dr. Stephen Meyer's 'Darwin's Doubt'.


Moreover, the fossil record can be explained easily taking into account the Biblical documentation of a global flood. The Darwinian assumption is usually that rock layers were formed over millions of years, and that as these layers were formed fossils were created. Rock layers closer to the surface are younger and will contain younger animals, whereas deep rock layers will be much older and contain earlier animals from which these younger animals developed.


There is an issue with this. If an animal dies in the field, it does not fossilise. It decays, bones and all, within a few weeks. For something to fossilise, it needs to be buried with a huge amount of sediment and compressed in a short period of time.


... [T]here is overwhelming evidence that most of the sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly. Indeed, the impeccable state of preservation of most fossils requires the animals and plants to have been very rapidly buried, virtually alive, by vast amounts of sediments before decay could destroy delicate details of their appearance and anatomy. Thus, if most sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly over a radically short period of time, say in a catastrophic global flood, then the animals and plants buried and fossilized in those rock layers may well have all lived at about the same time and then have been rapidly buried progressively and sequentially.

Dr. Andrew A. Snelling, Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in the Rock Record Favor Long Ages?


The Bible is therefore able to explain the fossils to much greater extent than the anti-Scriptural Darwinian view. Snelling's article provides a great explanation for the layers that we find and the order in which we find the organisms in the layers as well [5].


I'm not trying to debate the fossil record, the point I'm trying to make is that either side has a worldview that can quote experts with a sound interpretation of the evidence that is consistent with the presuppositions they bring to the table. We need to analyse our presuppositions. See the philosophical and theological sections for that particular analysis.


Information Last but not least, I would like to turn my attention to the area of information. Having studied mathematics and probability theory, this is by far the most interesting area of research against those holding on to the neo-Darwinian view. Note that this analysis (again) already grants all of the above to the evolutionist (which in practise I would not do).


The following video by the Discovery Institute explains it best:



Conclusion


I thank God that He has raised up brilliant scientists like Dr. Jason Lisle, Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Douglas Axe who by the grace of God studies nature at a very detailed level without bowing to naturalistic presuppositions.


If you are burning to know more, check out the following books:


References


[1] Wayne A. Grudem and K. Erik. Thoennes, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 123 [2] William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003) 601


[3] Answers in Genesis. 2020. War of the Worldviews | Answers in Genesis . [ONLINE] Available at: https://answersingenesis.org/worldview/war-of-the-worldviews/. [Accessed 17 May 2020].


[4] Naturalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) . 2020. Naturalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) . [ONLINE] Available at:https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/. [Accessed 18 May 2020].


[5] Answers in Genesis. 2020. Doesn’t the Order of Fossils in Rock Record Favor Long Ages? | Answers in Genesis . [ONLINE] Available at:https://answersingenesis.org/fossils/fossil-record/doesnt-order-of-fossils-in-rock-favor-long-ages/. [Accessed 18 May 2020].

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