Theistic Evolution


Response to George L Murphy:

A Theological Argument for Evolution


Fred Van Dyke

Assistant Professor of Science
Fort Wayne Bible College
Fort Wayne IN 46807

I am impressed that Mr. Murphy inherently grasps that our goal in the discussion is not "reconciliation." Any Christian of integrity is primarily concerned with truth and with a faithful presentation of God's word, not with his or her standing with various vested interests. I also am in complete agreement with the first five points of his paper: 1) God's activity toward the world displays a unity, 2) God creates out of nothing, 3) God's redemptive work is the entire creation, 4) God's redemption is accomplished through the incarnation of His word, and 5) Scripture is to be understood christologically.

I will not spend valuable space defending a label, i.e., creationism," rather than an idea. It is not true that evolution is the only theory which allows for the creation's redemption. Whatever individual Christians may say, the Bible does not give any credibility to the idea that humans are of a totally different physical nature than other created things. In fact, just the opposite is stated. Physically man is made from the dust of the ground, and to it he returns in death. But it is a major error in logic to conclude from that that, if man did not evolve from animal ancestors, then God cannot redeem His own creation. It is also important not to confuse representation with assumption. Adam was one man, but through him, as representative of the race, all sinned. The second Adam, Christ, represents all men but does not assume the identity of all men anymore than Adam did. Otherwise, we would be forced to conclude that Adam, Jesus, and I myself are the same person, which is ludicrous. Paul gives a better, and different, perspective than the idea of assumption by saying, "Through one man's disobedience many were made sinners, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted unification of life to all men." This is the familiar idea of federal headship, that Adam and Christ were representatives of the race. Such an idea does not require the concept of assumption, with all its attendant difficulties, to make redemption a cosmic event, nor does it require an ancestral link between humans and animals to allow Christ to redeem creation.

There is an unfortunate use of emotive terms and rhetoric which make agreement between biblical views and evolutionary theory more apparent than real. To say that God brings life out of death is not the same as saying that God creates through the process of death. The first saying means that God restores life to that which has died. Death, in this case, is an unnatural condition which God did not intend, but which He has power to overcome. The second means that God actively deals out death as the means to achieve His created work. That premise is a necessity for theistic evolution, but is biblically unsupportable.

Mr. Murphy's observations of a mediated creation are very interesting, and, perhaps, quite accurate. Unfortunately, they are given the appearance of agreement with evolutionary theory, an appearance which is quite misleading. To quote Mr. Murphy "ÖThe 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." This is a beautiful and biblical picture, much like that evoked when Aslan "sings" the creation into existence in C. S. Lewisís The Magicanís Nephew. But it in no way constituted agreement with evolution. The last thing an evolutionist imagines are fish falling out of the oceans and trees spontaneously springing up out of the ground. The idea of physical elements mediating the creation of species would hardly be received with enthusiasm by most biologists. Even the idea of the elemental generation of the most simple sub-life forms has met with increasing controversy in mainstream science.

Mr. Murphy and I are certainly in agreement about the area of greatest difficulty to the theological support for evolution, namely evil, sin, and death. As Mr. Murphy himself indicates, the Darwinian agreement proposed provides no answer to these difficulties. My only suggestion to this portion of his paper is that he does not pursue his own argument far enough. Mr. Murphy recognizes, rightly, that the proposed existence of death in the world before the Fall poses a serious problem to his interpretation. But if we examine evolutionary theory in any kind of detailed, critical way, we find that is not the only problem. Evolution does not merely require death to exist, but requires it to be the primary creative mechanism. To use Mr. Murphy's argument format,

(A) God is Creator.

(B) Evolution is the mechanism of the Creator.

(C) Death is the primary mechanism of evolution.

(D) God's primary mechanism of creation is death.

Once we grasp this, the entire discussion of right and wrong roads in human development becomes largely meaningless. If death, suffering, and scarcity were part of the lot of, for example, animals, before the Fall, how does human sin have any meaningful consequences for them? If sin affects only the meaning of death, rather than death itself, it would appear to be without consequence to the non-human creation. But, as Mr. Murphy proves, this cannot be the case, for all creation is fallen. Therefore, all creation must be re- deemed. But, if non-human creation is not fallen, why redeem it? To use Mr. Murphy's example, let us treat the Civil War as the Fall and slavery as death (the reader will see some parallels). Before the war, slavery legally existed in the United States. After the war it did not. The fate of slavery as an institution was a primary motivating factor for many who fought in the war. But to say that the war merely gave a new meaning to slavery after the war ignores both the facts of history and the rules of logic. In order for events to have meaning they must also have consequence. Mr. Murphy has proposed a Fall without consequence for the non-human elements of creation. Yet this view is supposed to give new meaning to old events. An event without consequences is a meaningless event. A Fall without consequences would be equally meaningless. Just as the Civil War had measurable consequences for the better, the Bible makes it clear that, for all elements of creation, the Fall had measurable consequences for the worse. To assert that the Fall had real consequences for all the creation is not a Flacian heresy. A fallen creation is no less God's creation. But it is a creation which longs for a redeemer, and which makes redemption a truly cosmic event, with measurable consequences for all creation.

There are other aspects of the question of death which bear examination. If selective mortality is a creative force on a continually evolving creation, how should we respond to such "creative" events. A wildlife refuge manager may one day look across a prairie marsh to see thousands of ducks dying of botulism. Logically, we know that the more resistant ducks may survive, thus genetically improving the species. But our "natural" response is likely to be to try to save as many ducks as possible. Should we assume that, by doing this, we are thwarting the creative activity of God? It is all very well to say that God brings life out of death, but that will be cold comfort in times of real personal dilemma. If we assign evolution to the role of primary creative mechanism, we are opposing the creative activity of God if we act to interfere in cases of selective mortality. Here is a case where the heart may be wiser than the head, and our natural opposition to death, even in wild creatures, may betray more of our "evolutionary," as well as spiritual, history than we realize. In fact, the sons of this age may be wiser than the sons of the kingdom in such cases. In my scenario, the official policy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to save all possible ducks through all possible means, even to the point of giving individual injections of botulism antitoxin.

Mr. Murphy's first five points, that God's activity toward the world displays a unity, that God creates out of nothing, that God's redemptive work is the entire creation, that God's redemption is accomplished through the Incarnation of His word, and that Scripture is to be understood christologically, are eloquent statements of a truly Christian view of creation. However, all of them are better understood without evolution than with it. Evolution does not, in the most precise sense, display unity. Rather, it displays diversity. The longer the process goes on, the more unlike each other creatures become. Even apparently similar structures, like the eyes of a human being and an octopus, are not considered as having a common source in design, but are considered to be independent responses to separate selective pressures. In fact, the most clearly displayed unity of creation would have existed in the "Adam molecule" before the evolutionary process began. Once initiated, evolution can only widen the covers of the taxonomist's manual. More and more species, less and less similarity.

Evolution does not display an act of God's creating out of nothing. There is a theory, the theory of abiogenesis, which does state that life evolved from non-life but that is not the same as evolutionary theory. That is why the theory of evolution is typically called the theory of organic evolution. George C. Kent, author of the familiar college textbook, Comparative Anatomy of the Vertebrates, put it well when he said, "The theory of organic evolution is a single, simple, easy to understand, yet widely misstated theorem, which is: The plants and animals on earth have been changing, and the ones around us today are descendants of those that were here earlier. The theory does not state how life began, or how the universe began" (Kent 1978:430-431, emphasis his). If God created out of nothing, He most certainly must have used something other than the evolutionary process. Darwin's own concise but elegant description of evolution as "descent with modification" always implies natural selection acting on preexisting forms and structures to produce new variations of those same forms and structures. But Darwin would have been the first to admit that natural selection is decidedly unoriginal, and never creates something from nothing.

Evolution does not display God's redemptive work toward the entire creation. The creative mechanisms of evolution require resource scarcity, competition, and death, precisely the things the Bible says God plans to redeem the creation from. If the presence of such conditions represent the creative activity of God, does that mean that their absence (as described in Isaiah I 1) represents a cessation of God's activity toward creation? And if, as this conclusion implies, there are no conditions in creation which have not always existed, what consequences has it suffered from the Fall? If creation has suffered no consequences from the Fall, what is the point of redeeming it? The tragedy of making evolution the agent of God's creative activity is that we end by not taking the Fall and its effects seriously enough. In our efforts to respect the integrity of the creation, we actually demean the creation, its need for redemption, and its Redeemer; and make redemption less than the cosmic act the Bible requires. For this reason, Mr. Murphy's fourth and fifth points do not constitute a theological argument for evolution. If God's redemptive work is the entire creation, it is necessary that the entire creation be in fallen state, experiencing conditions and processes different from its original form. Finally, if scripture is to be understood christologically, it seems remarkable that Christ the Creator (John 1) should have such an unenlightened, antagonistic view of death, since He should have been intimately familiar with evolutionary mechanisms.

Mr. Murphy has shown some exceptional insight into the biblical nature of the creation. He has expressed these insights with remarkable clarity and power. However, we can better appreciate his perceptions without the attendant baggage of evolutionary theory. His excellent points are, in my opinion, a tremendous statement on the creation, but are anything but a theological argument for evolution.