A Theological Argument For Evolution


St. Mark Lutheran Church 158 North Avenue, Box 201 Tallmadge, Ohio 44278

From JASA 38 (March 1986) : 19-26.

After a brief look at theological responses to biological evolution, some fundamental themes of Christian theology are reviewed. On this basis it is argued that evolution is to be preferred to creationism from the theological standpoint. Furthermore, it is argued that a Darwinian understanding of evolution is in better accord with the Biblical mew of Godís creative activity than is the Lamarckian one. A preliminary look is also taken at the related problems of evil, sin and death in the evolutionary context.

I. Introduction

The debate between biological evolution and creationism is perhaps the major conflict brought about by the interaction between modern science and Christian theology. (By "creationism" I mean here the theory of separate divine creation of each biological "kind," with no subsequent development from one "kind" to another. Creationisrn rejects "macroevolution.") The debate has gone on for well over a century. Mooreís bookí1 considers the early phase of post-Darwinian discussions. The total volume of theological response has, of course, been quite large, and would be impossible to survey here. But it will be of some value to have an idea of the variety of responses before proceeding to the body of this paper.

As already mentioned, creationism rejects evolution. Much recent creationist literature is not explicitly theological, for it is assumed there that creationism is theologically superior to evolution, and theconcentration is upon scientific aspects of the question. A very brief statement of this theological position is Maatmanís contribution to the dialogue (with Bube) "Inerrancy, Revelation and Evolution" in this journal.2

Theistic evolution is a rather general term. Often it is used for relatively conservative theories in which evolution is seen as God's way of creating, and considerable attention may be given to problems of reconciling the early chapters of Genesis with evolutionary theory. Bube's part of the previously cited dialogue3 and the books of Ramm4 and Messenger5 may be consulted in this connection. Recent articles by Hyers in this journal6 deal with the biblical creation texts.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth century found evolution itself quite harmonious with liberalism's belief in progress, but had trouble with the "natural selection" aspect of Darwin's theory. Abbott's book7 provides a good example of this genre.

Process theology is a theological approach which is attuned to evolution from the start. Birch's book8 gives a good introduction to this way of considering evolution. The work of Teilhard de Chardin, upon which I will comment later, has some similarities to this approach. Process theology certainly does justice to evolution, but it is not so clear that it can do justice to the Christian theological tradition.

There are many other works which might be cited. Benz's very helpful Evolution and Christian Hope9 and the recent collection of essays edited by Frye10 are two which may be mentioned in bringing this brief survey to a close.

It is the assumption of the present paper that evolution is to be dealt with both conservatively and positively. Christian theology based on scripture is to guide the discussion. Evolution is not merely to be "reconciled" with Christian faith, as if it could only maintain an uneasy truce with theology.11 I shall argue, from fundamental Christian ideas, that evolution provides a more correct view of God's creative work than does creationism. I shall also argue that a Darwinian understanding of the evolutionary process is closer to the biblical picture of God's activity than is the understanding of Lamarck.

II. Basic Theological Themes

In order to set the stage for our discussion, some fundamental theological principles need to be set out. I make no suggestion that anything like a complete survey of Christian doctrine is given here.

(1) God's activity toward the world displays a unity. Creation, redemption and sanctification are not three separate and unrelated works, but are all aspects of the one work of the One Triune God, in which all three persons participate. The "external" works of the Trinity are undivided.12

In particular, the Redeemer is the Creator. This finds clear expression in the Gospel of John, in which the One through whom all things were made (Jn. 1:3) is the One who draws all people to himself (Jn. 12:32). Athanasius states the point clearly near the beginning of On the Incarnation of the Word of God:13

It is, then, proper for us to begin the treatment of this subject by speaking of the creation of the universe, and of God its Artificer, so that it may be duly perceived that the renewal of creation has been the work of the self-same Word that made it at the beginning. For it will appear not inconsonant for the Father to have wrought its salvation in Him by Whose means He made it. 

This unity of Redeemer and Creator is necessary, for otherwise we would be called to place our trust in a savior separate from God, and there would be a fundamental violation of the First Commandment. (Cf. also, e.g., Is. 43.) 

(2) God's characteristic "external" activity is creation out of nothing, what I have called "The Trademark of God. "14 God creates ex nihilo, in spite of the lack of any human possibility.15 When there is no natural possibility of existence or life, God brings things into being and calls forth life. Creation "in the beginning," the Exodus and return from Babylonian exile, the Resurrection of Christ and the justification of the ungodly are the chief examples of this work. The linkage is shown nicely in Romans 4, where the God "who justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) is also the God "who gives life to the dead .and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom. 4:17). Belief in God as the One who does what is impossible from the human standpoint is a fundamental element of prophetic faith.16

For our purposes, it is most important to note the unity of God's actions in the creation of the universe and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This has been expressed beautifully by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:" 

But the God of the creation and of the real beginning is, at the same time, the God of the resurrection. From the beginning the world is placed in the sign of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Indeed it is because we know of the resurrection that we know of God's creation in the beginning, of God's creation out of nothing. The dead Jesus Christ of Good Friday-and the resurrected  Lord of Easter Sunday: that is creation out of nothing, creation from the beginning. The fact that Christ was dead did not mean the possibility of the resurrection, but its impossibility; it was the void itself, it was the nihil negativum

(3) In view of the fundamental unity of Creator and Redeemer, it is not surprising that the object of God's redemptive work is the entire creation. This is expressed very clearly in, for example, Romans 8: 1 8-25  and Colossians 1:17-20. God's final salvation is not a matter of snatching a few human souls out of an otherwise doomed world, a view reminiscent of Gnostic redeemer myths. God's work is to culminate in a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1,5).

The idea of cosmic redemption is not to be confused with a simple-minded universalism. It is possible for human beings to turn away from God for eternity, and the biblical witness is very hard to reconcile with any teaching that every human being will escape such an end, though Christ has died for all. However, cosmic redemption does mean that all created natures, and not only the human, will share in the new creation. Somehow saber-toothed tigers and dogs and oak trees participate together with men and women. It may be bard to picture bow that is going to work, and we need not exercise ourselves unduly in trying to imagine "Dog Heaven." C. S. Lewis's chapter on "Animal Pain" provides some useful thoughts on the matter.18

(4) God's redemptive work is accomplished entirely through the Incarnation of the Word. The christological controversies of the early centuries established not only the full divinity of Christ ("The Redeemer- is the Creator"), but also Christ's full humanity. There is no proper aspect of humanity, body, soul or mind, which is "left out" of the Incarnation. The classic statement of this, which can be regarded simply as a paraphrase of Hebrews 2:17, is "That which is not taken is not healed."19 The salvation of any aspect of humanity occurs through its being taken up into personal union with the Word of God in the total action that includes the conception, birth, life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.

The classical development of the doctrine of the Incarnation stated that far more was involved than the union of the Word with a single human being. God and humanity are united in Jesus. In classical terminology, Christ exists in two natures, divine and human, united in one person, the divine Second Person of the Trinity20 There is no separate human person in Christ, since the human nature which the Word took on never exists apart from God (God did not "adopt" a human Jesus at some stage of his life). It is in the divine Son of God that the assumed humanity has its personal "centering. "21 Newman's way of putting this, with the generic use of the word a man," makes it clear: "Though Man, He is not, strictly speaking, a Man.22 (We may say that un-personal human nature is en-personed [enhypostasized] in the person of the Word. However, to say that the assumed human nature was "un-personal" in the technical sense of classical theology does not mean that Jesus lacked human "personality" in the modern sense of the word.)

The idea of a general human nature seems odd to modern Westerners, accustomed to nominalism and individualism. It is not so strange within the biblical world view. The Hebrew idea of "corporate personality," in which each Israelite is united with all his/her contemporaries and with those of past and future, gives an Old Testament background for such a concept.23 St.Paul's picture of Christians as members of the Body of Christ is also significant here.

The related theme of recapitulation, an interesting biblical undercurrent, was used by Irenaeus near the end of the second century.24 Christ recapitulates or "sums up" the previous history of Israel and humanity, doing over again - but correctly this time - the things in which humanity had failed before. We get a fresh start in Christ. Matthew 4:1-11, for example, can be understood as Jesusí successful passage of the wilderness testing in which Israel had failed.25

Irenaeus also thought that Christ recapitulated the different stages of life of an individual human being. He said that Christ passed through all those stages from infancy through death and resurrection, "that in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Col 1:18).26 Through the Word's personal experiencing of infancy, infancy was sanctified, and similarly for other stages.

(5) Scripture is to be understood christologically:

"All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ," said Luther.27 We have not fully understood a part of scripture if we have not seen its relationship with the person and work of Christ (e.g., Lk. 24:44). This does not mean that we are to torture Old Testament passages to find prophecies of Christ. It does mean, however, that Genesis I and 2, for instance, are misused if treated primarily as a scientist's notebook recording details of the creation process, with no christological content. The passage from Bonhoeffer quoted earlier is an example of an appropriate christological approach to these chapters.

Von Rad has pointed out that, within the Old Testament itself, the tradition of the saving event of the Exodus precedes reflection on the creation of the universe.28 Experience of salvation comes before construction of cosmogonies.

III Creationism or Evolution?

We now move to our central topic of creation and its relationship with evolution. The evolutionary view can take seriously the biblical picture of humanity being formed from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7), in common with other living creatures (Ps. 104:20-30). It is their relationship with God which distinguishes human beings from other animals (Ps. 8). According to evolutionary theory, we bear in our bodies the history of our organic relationship with the rest of the bio- sphere. Evidence for this is supplied by embryology, by the commonality of the genetic code, the similarity of protein structures and the homological features of gross anatomy. From the standpoint of history and physical constitution, there is no sharp distinction between human beings and other animals.

With this in mind, we proceed to the argument for the theological superiority of evolution over creationism. Of course we must realize that arguments and proofs are always contingent upon certain presuppositions, so that it is important to make these as explicit as possible. The following form of the argument will be helpful:

(A) The whole creation is to be redeemed. (See 11(3) above.)

(B) What has not been assumed (i.e., taken up by God in the Incarnation) has not been redeemed. (See 11(4) above.)

(C) Because of (B), the whole creation cannot be redeemed unless it has been assumed. But (A) states that it is to be redeemed. Therefore the whole creation has been assumed in the Incarnation.

Creationism appears to allow no way for our conclusion to be satisfied. In that theory, humans are of a nature totally different and isolated from the natures of other creatures, so that the Incarnation "can't touch" non-humans. Evolution, however, says that humans are related to other creatures, sharing not only the same chemical elements and related structures, but also a common history. Thus evolution appears to provide the theologically superior understanding of creation.

In other words, only evolution fulfills the joint requirements that Christ be the Redeemer of the world (as the litany says29) and that salvation comes via the Incarnation, It is not easy to see how one could maintain creationism without compromising the cosmic scope of the Incarnation, and thus of salvation.

It is helpful to think of this argument in terms of the idea of recapitulation. This biblical theme emphasized irenaeus has also been a significant evolutionary theme. It has been recognized for some time that relationships between embryos and adults of different species may reveal evolutionary connections. (This was stressed especially by Haeckel, a very vocal opponent of Christianity.30 I wonder if he was ever aware that he was pursuing an ancient theme of Christian theology.) We know now that the rather simple-minded view of this relationship, according to which "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" or "the embryo climbs its family tree" is inaccurate. It would be closer to the truth to say that the embryo recapitulates the evolutionary history of its ancestral embryos.31 The basic point remains, that the early developmental stages of humans manifest a 11 participation" by our pre-human ancestors.

(I need to emphasize that this apparent agreement ,between theological and biological ideas of recapitula- tion is only one expression of the fundamental idea of the participation of non-humans in humanity. While this one piece of evidence is striking, the main argument does not stand or fall with it. The other evidence mentioned at the end of the first paragraph of this section is equally significant.)

 ... Genesis I and 2, for instance, are misused if treated primarily as a scientist's notebook recording details of the creation process,.with no christological content. 

If what is said here is true of humans in general, it is true of Christ. From the first instant of conception in the womb of Mary, the child that the Virgin bore was God Incarnate. The Word thus assumed, in a vividly real sense, our ancestral history. C. S. Lewis saw this as showing the depth to which God descends into creation to save and remake it:32

 He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He had created. 

The argument in this section may be offensive to some Christians. It is precisely the idea that humans are descended from sub-human animals that motivates much of the emotional and intellectual opposition to evolution, and the idea that Jesus would share such a relationship makes the idea even more difficult to accept. We may note two examples of such opposition from creationists of yesterday and today. 

A good answer to the evolutionistic view of creation was given by a Decatur, Ill., Baptist minister, whose little girl one day came home from school and said. [sic]

"Do you know, folks used to live up in trees like monkeys." "Not your folks," the minister answered. "Your folks came down from God, not up from slime."33

Theistic evolution ... makes man a half-evolved, half-created being who is a remodeled ape, so to speak. It also makes the Lord Jesus Christ into a very specially made-over ape. But the Bible says that He is the Creator of the universeÖ"34

Now a Christian should avoid giving unnecessary offense, but we must be clear about what is involved here. The Bible states clearly that humanity did come up from slime."35 And the idea that Jesus was a specially made-over ape," far from contradicting the doctrine of the Incarnation, is a magnificent expression of it. The scandal that is involved here cannot be avoided, for it is the very scandal of the cross (I Cor. 1:18-31). God Incarnate as a "made-over ape" is of a piece with the "folly" of God Incarnate born in a stable and dying the death of a slave on a cross.

IV. What Kind of Evolution?

So it is evolution, and not creationism, with which Christian theology should deal. But what type of evolution? Is there any sound theological guide to help us make the decision between the two choices (to oversimplify somewhat) of Lamarckian or Darwinian evolution? The former type of theory would argue that evolutionary progress occurs because acquired characters are transmitted, so that "striving for "improvement" (whether or not this is pictured in terms of any kind of consciousness) on the part of a species is rewarded. Darwin's view, on the other hand, is that some organisms are better suited to survive in a given environment than are others, and that they are more likely to leave viable offspring. Species will change because of the transmission of variations which aid in survival. It is misleading to talk about "improvement" in any absolute sense with this view. In this type of theory, competition and extinction play major roles in evolution.

A glance back at our theological themes, especially 11(2), will convince us that, theologically, Darwin is more likely to be right than Lamarck. For the biblical picture is precisely that God brings life out of death, being out of chaos, and hope in hopeless situations. This is resurrection faith, faith in the God who justifies the ungodly. The idea that life arises and develops through competition and extinction is part of the same picture. This is not to say that competition and extinction are good or have some potential for good, any more than bondage in Egypt or the murder of Jesus were, in themselves, good. But God, in defiance of humanly reckoned possibilities, brings good out of evil. God creates out of nothing.

Most human philosophy and theology is more congenial with the Lamarekian view. The liberal theology of the nineteenth century had no great problem with evolution itself, but tended to gag on its specifically Darwinian aspects which did not fit in with the somewhat naive idea of progress entertained by liberalism.36 Lamarck's approach also fits comfortably into the Marxist understanding of human development, and has done considerable damage to Soviet biology. 37 In this connection it may be helpful to comment on the contributions of Teilhard de Chardin to our theological understanding of evolution. Much of Teilhard's thought is of value. For him Christology was central to understanding evolution, and be developed the concept of the "super-personalization" of the Body of Christ as the current stage of human evolution.38 The communal character of Christianity is emphasized, as speculations about individual super humans are done away with in favor of the Pauline picture of the organic church. And Teilhard's work is the more attractive because he brings science into contact with a mature Christian spirituality. 39

But there are also problems with Teilhard's approach to evolution. He is not very comfortable with Darwinian natural selection, and it is fairly clear that he would prefer the Lamarekian concept if that were feasible.40 The reasons for this are not far to seek. The period during which Teilhard received his scientific training was one in which the idea of transmission of acquired characteristics was scientifically respectable. But it is just as significant that the Lamarekian theory fits in well with a classical Roman Catholic "grace perfects nature" theology.

Teilhard makes a good point, that cultural evolution depends on education, which has the nature of a Lamarckian mechanism.41 But even this seems too similar to the liberal trust in the transforming power of education. And when he says, for instance, that "there can be no place for the poor in spirit,"42 he is definitely off the biblical trajectory. Teilhard's work requires correction through more emphasis on the biblical picture of God's creative activity.

Many people would prefer a God who either maintains the status quo or rewards effort with progress. The idea that God might let species become extinct-might even work through extinction-was difficult for humanity to accept: Eiseley tells the story in his essay "How Death Became Natural."43 Such acceptance was a necessary prelude to serious scientific thinking about evolution, Now we see it also as a key to understanding evolution theologically, a key provided by the prophetic faith which Sanders describes:44

For the prophets were true monotheists, and nothing they said so stressed their monotheism as the idea that God was free enough of his chosen people to transform them in the crucible of destitution into a community whose members could themselves be free of every institution which in his providence he might give them. Their real hope, according to these prophets, lay in the God who had given them their existence in the first place, in his giving it to them again. Normal folk, in their right minds, know that hope is in having things turn out the way they think they should-by maintaining their view of life without let, threat, or hindrance. And normal folk believe in a god who will simply make things turn out that way. For them it is not a question of what God ought to do, that is clear: he will do what we know is right for him to do, if we simply trust and obey. Nobody in his right mind could possibly believe that God would want us to die in order to give us life again, or to take away the old institutions he first gave us in order to give us new ones.

V. Notes on Genesis

Our discussion to this point has been based on biblical themes, but we have not looked with any care at the creation accounts of Genesis. Detailed exegesis is not in order here, but it will be helpful to note a few points.

(1) In Genesis 1:1-2:4a, creation is through God's Word. In the context of the whole Bible, and especially with John 1:1-18 in mind, we can see this as creation through Christ. "The Redeemer is the Creator."

(2) At three points in this first creation account, 1:11-12, 1:20 and 1:24, mediated creation is clearly taught. God says, "Let the earth bring forth. . .. " and "Let the waters bring forth.. .." These verses are certainly concerned with divine creation. For example, verse twenty, in which the waters are told to bring forth life, is followed by a statement of the carrying out of this command using the verb br', which expresses the divine prerogative of creation.

Thus the "literal interpretation" of Genesis I is that the creation of plants and animals is mediated, the elements having been given the power to "bring forth" these creatures when God so commands. Messenger has shown in his very useful book that this was the general understanding of Christian theologians up to the thirteenth century.45 The opinion that God created each "kind" in an act of direct and unmediated creation is unbiblical.

It is important for us to be aware of the direction of thought of the theologians of the early church, and to see that there is a good deal of difficulty in reconciling some patristic thought with creationism. Especially interesting are the ideas of Gregory of Nyssa, one of the fourth century theologians who gave definitive form to the classical doctrine of the Trinity. He saw that Genesis I teaches mediated creation, matter from the first instant of its creation having the potential to develop in accordance with God's will. In his treatise "On the Making of Man,"46 Gregory argues that vegetative souls had to come first, then animal souls, and finally the rational soul and full humanity. A careful study of his writings suggests that this means that humanity passed through these preliminary stages before becoming fully human.46 if Gregory does not unambiguously teach human evolution, he is not far from it.

(3) God says, "Let us make humanity ['adham] in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion Ö" (Gen. 1:26). One cannot press the plurals "us" and "our" here to find a teaching of the Trinity. But as Moltmann48 has pointed out, there is - again, in the context of all of scripture - profound significance in the fact that humanity is created in the image of the triune God. For the Trinity is a community, and this is reflected in the image of God. It is the whole human community which is, as a community, created in the divine image and likeness.

(4) We have noted the importance of the fact that, in the second creation account (Gen. 2:4b-25), God makes the first human "of dust from the ground" (Gen. 2:7). This expresses strongly the truth that the human race shares in the physical substance of the rest of the universe. It is this sharing which makes possible the taking up by God of physical reality in the Incarnation. To some extent, Genesis 2:7 corresponds to the statements of mediated creation of other creatures in the first creation account.

VI. Evil, Sin, and Death

I do not want to suggest that evolution presents no theological difficulties. The interlocked problems of the origins of evil, sin and death in particular, require hard thinking if we are to take evolution seriously in a Christian context. In traditional western theology these matters have been dealt with in terms of a historical Fall of humanity, but how is a Fall to be understood if humanity appeared through evolution in the middle of cosmic history? I do not claim any definitive treatment in this section, but only survey approaches to the issue and make some suggestions.

A straightforward procedure is to say that when humanity emerged from the pre-human and was able to respond to God's Word, the first man and woman chose to disobey God. While it leaves much of traditional theology intact, this approach by itself displays no causal connection between the first Sin and the suffering and death that took place in the world before there were human beings.

The views of original sin in Eastern Christianity seem more amenable to an evolutionary understanding.49 For example, the picture sketched by Athanasius seems

to be one of humanity at first on the road to perfection with God but not yet having such perfection.50 Sin was then a turning away from God more than a fall. Humanity took the wrong road, a road to death; for in turning from the Word, it turned from being.51 While this is open to an evolutionary understanding, it again does not deal with pre-human suffering and death.

The idea of the seduction of humanity by fallen angelic powers can help to convey some sense of the cosmic scope of the problem of evil. But it must he used with care, lest it foster a feeling of lack of human responsibility for sin. ("The devil made me do it.")

For some theologians, evil is present from the first instant of creation, apart from any choice on the part of creatures. It is, as Teithard puts it, the "shadow" of creation.52 We have to guard against any kind of absolute dualism in the doctrine of creation, and it would perhaps be well to look for a solution to the problem of evil that is theologically more conservative.

A major difficulty is the existence of suffering and death for many millions of years before there were human beings. The' Christian tradition, supported by, for instance, Romans 5:12, has generally considered suffering and death to be consequences of human disobedience to God. Can these ideas be reconciled? Perhaps not, if we insist upon common-sense ideas of causality, but we need not do- that.- Even in classical physics there can be "advanced potentials" which depend on future values of a charge and current distribution, and Feynman's "backward in time" idea for anti-matter may be used in particle theory.53

When we deal with the meanings of phenomena, the idea that events can affect things before they happen seems even more plausible. To illustrate from American history, one can argue that the Civil War is the most important thing that has happened in the United States. Its effects since 1865 have been immense, and are still with us. But phenomena before 1861-e.g., the slave trade or Missouri Compromise-also can be understood fully only in light of the Civil War. It did not cause previous events, but helps to give them meaning.

Similar ideas have been used in theology by Cullmann and Pannenberg.54 Cullmann argues that Christ, at the center of history, gives meaning to all of history. Old Testament passages that refer to Christ do so because of Christ rather than because of an intrinsic predictive power which they possess.

What about the effects of sin? Physical pain and death were in the world before humanity but there was no sin, no willful turning from God (Rom. 1:18-32). That changed when the first humans chose to disobey God, The introduction of sin into the creation put a new and terrible meaning on the death that had gone before. It was no longer a purely physical process, the. stopping of bodily machinery, but part of the dissolution consequent upon creation's turning from its Creator. The effects of the sin of the first humans radiated forward and backward in time.

It is interesting to compare this picture with that of Athanasius. He allowed that the first human, even on the right road and in a state of innocence, might have been subject to physical death. But he understood the penalty for eating of the forbidden tree in Genesis 2:17 to be more than this kind of death. The Hebrew moth tamuth is emphatic - "Thou shalt surely die" (KJV). But Athanasius, working with a Greek translation, saw here a two-fold death: "But by 'dying ye shalt die,' what else could be meant than not dying merely, but also abiding ever in the corruption of death?"55

Finally, it may help to make two general comments about original sin. First, whatever else original sin is, it is an empirical and existential fact. Romans I and 7 need to be read in addition to Romans 5. Lack of a satisfactory explanation for the origin or transmission of original sin does not mean that the reality of it can be ignored.

Second, we should remember that, besides the Pelagian heresy which does not take original sin seriously, there is the heresy of Flacius which can be said to take it too seriously56 Flacius, wanting to insist as strongly as possible on the total depravity of unredeemed humanity, asserted that original sin is the substance of unredeemed humanity. This would mean that fallen humanity is really no longer God's creation, introducing a Manichean dualism. The Formula of Concord rejected the positions of both Pelagius and Flacius.57 As with most theological issues, one must stay in the middle of the road. There are "Out of Bounds" signs on both sides

VII Conclusions

Acceptance of evolution by theologians does not mean that all questions of creation, anthropology, redemption, or other issues involved in creation-evolution discussions are easily resolved. (Acceptance of biological evolution does not, of course, mean acceptance of anti-Christian conclusions that have sometimes been incorrectly drawn from evolution. The whole argument of this paper is that evolution and Christianity are profoundly compatible.) But it can keep us from wasting our time on non-problems, and allows us to focus energy on serious theological concerns. I believe that what is presented here, centering on Section 111, is a strong theological argument for accepting evolution.


Much of the work which resulted in this essay was done in connection with my 1983 M.Div. thesis at Wartburg Seminary, and I would like to thank my thesis advisers, Professors Norma Everist and Duane Priebe, for their encouragement and advice. I would also like to thank those who responded to my presentation on this theme at the 1983 Annual Meeting of the A.S.A. and the anonymous reviewers of a first draft of this article.


1Moore, James R., The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

2Bube, Richard H. and Maatman, Russell W., Journal A.S.A. 23, 80,1972.


4Ramm, Bernard, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954, especially pp. 280-293.

5Messenger, Ernest C., Evolution and Theology. New York: Macmillan, 1932.

6Hyers, Conrad, Journal A.S.A. 36,142,1984 and 36,208,1984.

7Abbott, Lyman, The Theology of an Evolutionist. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1897.

8Birch, Charles L., Nature and God. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1965.

9Benz, Ernst, Evolution and Christian Hope. Tr. Heinz C. Frank. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1966.

10Frye, Roland Mushat, ed., Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation-Science. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1983.

11In a wider setting, a note in the 28 February 1985 Akron Beacon journal on the award of the Templeton Prize to Sir Alistair Hardy quotes him as saying, "The whole point of my life has been to reconcile Darwin's theory of evolution with the religious side of man."

12Schmid, Heinrich, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 3rd ed. revised. Trans. by Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961, pp. 129-149.

13Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word. Trans. nd ed. by Archibald Robertson. In vol. IV of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980 (reprint), p. 36.

14Murphy, George L., The Trademark of God". Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow, 1986.

15For a discussion of the doctrine of ex nihilo creation and modern cosmology see, e.g., Murphy, George L., Journal A.S.A. 32,230,1980.

16Sanders, James A., Torah and Canon. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972, pp. 54-90.

17Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Creation and Fall/Temptation. Trans. by John C. Fletcher and Kathleen Downham. New York: Macmillan, 1959, p. 19.

18 Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain. New York: MacMillan, 1962, ch. 9. 

19Grilimeier, Aloys, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. 1, 2nd. ed. Trans. by John Bowden. Atlanta: John Knox, 1975, pp, 321, 531.

20Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, pp. 293-337, terminology being defined on p. 297. The Definition of Chalcedon is given in Bettenson, Henry, ed., Documents of the Christian Church. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford, 1963, pp. 51-52.

21For a modern treatment see Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Jesus Christ: God and Man. 2nd ed. Trans. by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977, pp. 337-344.

22Newman is quoted in Baillie, D. M., God was in Christ. 2nd revised ed. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1955, p. 15. Baillie also includes criticism of the idea of anhypostasia in this first chapter of his book.

23Robinson, H. Wheeler, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel. Revised ed. Intro. by Gene M. Tucker. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.

24Irenaeus, Against Heresies. Trans. by Alexander Roberts and W. H. Rambaubaune Fatheys. Ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979 (reprint). See, e.g., Book 11, chap. XXII, par. 4, Book 111, chap. XVIII, par. 7 and Book V, chap. XXI, par. 1. These passages are also in Betteson, Documents of the Christian Church, pp. 29-30..

25Gundry, Robert H., Matthew. Grand Rapids, Nil: Eerdmans, 1982, pp, 53-58.

26Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 11, chap. XXII, par. 4.

27Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther. Trans. by Robert C. Schultz,. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966, p. 74.

28Yon Had, Gerhard, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I. Trans. by D. Stalker. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. See especially pp. 136-139 ,175-179.

29Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978, p. 169

30Haeckel, Ernst, The Riddle of the Universe. Trans. by Jose McCabe. London: Watts & Co. 1929, ch. IV.

31De Beer, Gavin, Embryos and Ancestors. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.

32Lewis, C. S., Miracles, New York: Macmillan, 1947, pp. 115-116. 1 have corrected what appears to me to be a typographical error here.

33Graebner, Th., Evolution Milwaukee: Northwestern, 1929, p. 156.

34 Kofabi, Robert E., Handy, Dandy Evolution Refuter. San Diego: Beta Books, 38i 1980'p. 17.

35 I mean this loosely: Gen. 2-7 says "of dust." Yet it is interesting to note that western Christians for centuries understood this verse in terms of the Vulgate's "de lirno terrae'" translated , "of the slime of the earth" in the Douay-Rheims-Challoner. See Messenger, Evolution and Theology, pp. 107-116.

36E.g., Abbott, The Theology of an Evolutionist.

37Gardner, Martin, Fads & Fallacies. Revised ed. New York: Dover, 1957, ch. 12.

38Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre Christianity and Evolution, Trans, by Reneí Hague. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969.

39Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre Hymn of the Universe. Trans. by Gerald Vann. New York: Harper & How, 1969.

40 For Teilhard's explicit comment on this feeling which one gets from much of his writing see, e.g., the note on pp. 149-150 of Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man. Trans. by Bernard Wall. New York:

Harper & Row, 1959.

41Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre The Phenomenon of man p 178 (note) and The Future of Man. Trans. by Norman Denny. New York: Harper & Row, 1964, ch. II

42 Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, p. 75.

43Eiseley, Loren The Firmament Of Time. New York: Atheneum, 1962.

44Sanders, Torah and Canon, p. 87.

45Messenger, Evolution and Theology.

46Gegory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man. Trans. by H. A. Wilson. in Vol. V of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1979 (reprint).

47Messenger, Evolution and Theology, pp. 121-144.

48 Moltrnann, Jurgen, The Trinity and the Kingdom. Trans. by Margaret Kohl. San Francisco: Harper & How 1981, PP. 198-199. See also Bracken Joseph, A., What Are They Saying About the Trinity?. New York: Paulist, 1979, pp. 67-71.

49Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church. Baltimore: Penguin, 1964, pp. 223-230.

50Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, p. 38. See also the "Prolegomena" to that volume (IV) of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, especially p. lxxi.

51Athanasius, On the Incarnation Of The Word, pp. 38-39.

52Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, p 40.

53Panofsky, Wolfgang K. H. and Phillips, Melba: Classical Electricity and Magnetism. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1955 pp. 212-215. Feynman, R. P., Theory of Fundamental Processes. New York: W. A. Benjamin, 1962, ch. 5.

54Culimann, Oscar, Christ and Time. Trans. by Floyd V. Filson. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1950. Pannenberg, Jesus - God and Man.

55Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, p. 38. See also "Prolegomena" to Vol. IV of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, p. lxxi.

56Bente, F., "Historical introductions to the Symbolical Books Of the Evangelical Lutheran Church." pp. 144-151, in Concordia Trigiotta. St. Louis: Concordia, 1921.

57The Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, Article 1, in Concordia Triglotta.