Theistic Evolution

Trying to Reconcile Evolution and Creation

Many Christians feel compelled to try to reconcile evolution and creation through a view called "theistic evolution." In this article we will examine whether there are legitimate ways to do this. But anyone who attempts to do so are up against an initial problem that evolution is essentially an atheistic philosophy. For the evolutionist, if God exists, He is irrelevant. The following definition of evolution was the 1995 official Position Statement of the American National Association of Biology Teachers and is consistent with what other major science organizations mean by evolution:

"The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments."

 The concept of evolution being a godless random chance process is emphasized throughout the writings of scientists. For example, consider the words of famous geneticist Richard Lewontin:

"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 counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen."

Or consider this quote from Richard Dawkins: "Miraculous additions at any one stage of descent...i.e. any evolution that had to be helped over the jumps by God was not evolution at all."

It is clear from such quotes, and innumerable others like them, that the evolution establishment excludes God completely from the standard definitions of evolution. But some considerations are in order. Even the most fundamentalist Christians recognize that micro-evolution happened. Microevolution is a horizontal process of change within "kinds." Micro-evolution is really a misnomer as it is not evolution at all, but variation, or sometimes referred to as "genetic drift." Micro-evolution does not change the gene pool of a population. See our article Evolution: Science of Creation Story?

True evolution is macro-evolution, which is the vertical process of organisms acquiring a greater quantity and quality of genetic information by natural processes. This is where the debate lies.

But the landscape here gets murky. Some Intelligent Design proponents think that macro-evolution did in fact happen, but also that God's supernatural intervention helped at certain key points. Here is an interesting article that actually puts scientists in four different camps on this question: Paul Nelson on Design and Common Ancestry.

What about the book of Genesis? Even conservative scholars have different views on how to interpret Genesis. Let's briefly survey various ways that different Christians interpret the Genesis. Keep in mind that the real debate is not about the age of the earth, but whether the universe and all life could have happened by chance.

Young Earth Creationistists hold to a literal 6-day creation week. They also believe that the genealogies in Genesis are complete and comprehensive. Together, these limit the age of the earth to less than 10,000 years. Young Earthers also believe that their views are fully compatible with science—that the vast majority of scientific evidences that help date the age of the earth point to a very young earth. They believe that when the Bible says that there was no death before the Fall of man (when Adam sinned), this literally means that there was no physical death of men or even animals before Adam disobeyed God. Thus, even carnivorous animals ate only plant matter until Adam's Fall. The proponents of this view include Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research.

Old Earth Creationists believe that an old earth is fully compatible with the Bible. Thus, proponents of Old Earth Creationism believe that the biblical account of creation is compatible with the generally accepted view of scientists about the age of the earth, but generally believe that evolution and the Bible are not compatible otherwise. There are different versions of old earth creationism, however. One version is that the creation days of Genesis were literal 24-hour days, but the genealogies are not comprehensivebut rather are merely representative. Thus, the Genesis account of creation being six literal days is correct, but it happened billions of years ago.

Or they may hold that there were very long gaps between the days. Or they may hold that the creation days of Genesis were not literal 24-hour days, but rather long indeterminate periods of time. (See Day Age view.)

Progressive Creationism is an old earth view in which animals were created long before mankind, and further, there may have even been hominids before Adam and Eve.

Another view of Genesis that allows for an old earth is called the Framework Hypothesis. This model holds that Genesis is not to be understood literally, but rather as a poetic outline to declare that God was the creator of the universe. Still another view of Genesis is the Covenant Creation Hypothesis, which states that the "heaven and earth" of Genesis is not about the literal physical universe at all, but rather about God's covenants with mankind. Proponents of this latter view are Jeffrey Vaughn and Timothy Martin at Beyond Creation Science.

Old earth creationists often believe that when the Bible says that there was no death before Adam's Fall, it means spiritual death only. Thus, it is understood that men as well as animals were made by God "very good," complete with digestive systems. Indeed, they were given food to eat from the beginning, and thus would have died physically had they not eaten. So the death experienced by Adam was not physical death, but rather spiritual death. What was forfeited by Adam was eternal life after physical death, which was restored by Jesus.

A leading proponent of an old earth view is Reasons to Believe. Its founder is Hugh Ross. 

There are numerous other implications about how the book of Genesis is interpreted in this regard. This is all interesting to the theologian. While we lean toward an old earth view, we would again emphasize here that the bigger debate is not about the age of the earth. The key point in the debate with evolutionists is whether God created the universe and life, or whether it was a matter of pure chance. If you fail to understand this, you have missed the point of the debate!

There are four basic categories of theistic evolution, which we will simply call TE-1, TE-2, TE-3. In discussion with proponents of theistic evolution, we have noticed that most have not thought through their position very deeply. They simply hold to some sort of vague idea about all of this. By breaking down these various views we might help the reader to get a better grasp of the possibilities. Our thanks to Stephen Meyer at the Discovery Institute for some of this helpful thinking.

TE-1 says that God "directed" evolution and further that we can scientifically detect this. This view, along with young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism can be considered part of the Intelligent Design movement. All three groups believe that we can infer from rigorous scientific examination that an intelligent agent must have been involved in the origins of life and its various forms. TE-1 seems to be an extreme version of progressive creation in that God was involved in every tiny mutation and each "natural" selection event. As far as we know, there are yet no visible groups that are proponents of TE-1.

TE-2 says that God directed evolution, but that this cannot be detected scientifically. This group seems to take their view of origins of man largely on blind faith as they offer no scientific explanation for it. The idea of blind faith is no better than superstition or wishful thinking—and is neither scientific nor biblical. The BioLogos Forum is a proponent of this idea. Like TE-1, God intervened trillions and trillions of times into "random" processes. Also see our article How the Bible and Evolution Conflict.

TE-3 says that God did not direct the evolutionary process in any way. Yet they still say that God was involved in the process somehow. Thus, they believe that God guided an un-guided process. This view is obviously logically contradictory and thus is impossible.

Bottom Line: All of these views of theistic evolution are problematic.


Some Christians say that "God used evolution to create." But what they are saying is a logical contradiction. As even evolutionists agree, random chance by definition eliminates God. The First Law of Logic says that two opposite things both cannot be true at the same time and in the same relationship. It is one or the other: random chance OR God's creative effort. For Christians to think otherwise is purely wishful thinking.

Deism. There is another view that allows God in the picture. It says that God created the universe and then stepped back and let things run on their own. Evolution by random chance then took over and became the mechanism by which lifeforms came into being. This view is called deism. While it is a possible view, it certainly is not Christian. The Christian God not only created the universe, but specifically created all life. Further, God is not only creator, but sustainer of the world as well. There is a further philosophical problem with deism that has led many theists who have studied philosophy to discard it. The problem is that under deism whatever is, is right. In other words, if God allows all events to happen, how can one say that any event or choice is wrong? Thus ethics has no meaning.

We might call this view "Deistic Evolution." And it seems that there are at least a couple of versions of it, which can label DE-1 and DE-2. Here is how they might look:

DE-1. God's only role is that of creating the universe.

DE-2. It seems that a few people say that God created the universe and did not intervene again until raising Jesus Christ from the dead. This seems to be yet another attempt to reconcile Christianity with evolution. But there are numerous problems with this view as well. For example, why would you assume that humankind would even exist at all if God did not ultimately determine it? Is God involved in your life? Can you trust in a God that is not really sovereign in all things?

So, any form of deism brings the ire of atheists and Christians alike.


Still more ideas:

Some Christians trying to harmonize evolution and creation will make the statement, "I believe that God used evolution to create." This is a naive statement. In fact, it is an internal contradiction. By definition, evolution is purely a random chance process ("undirected material process") with no part by a Creator God. We believe it is impossible for the rational Christian to say that God used evolution to create.

A final consideration is that some Christians have attempted to reconcile creation and evolution by compartmentalizing science and religion. Under this view, the two disciplines attempt to find truth in different ways, and the disciplines should respectfully not interfere with each other. But this too is inconsistent with Scripture. This is merely succumbing to society's effort to marginalize Christianity. The Bible insists that its worldview is all encompassing (Romans 1:19-20; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 2:10).

And some Christians attempt to reconcile evolution with the Bible due to an unfounded concern that the Bible will not hold up to scientific scrutiny. This is an unwarranted fear. Concerning science and Scripture, while the Bible was not written as a science textbook, Christians should welcome the Bible being investigated through scientific endeavors such as archeology, geology, paleontology, etc. The Bible consistently holds up under such tests. It is now even recognized that the Bible correctly demonstrates pre-science knowledge throughout the science disciplines. And there are no scientific mistakes in the Bible (Defender's Study Bible, annotations by Henry Morris, page 1525).

See our essays at Tough Questions.

Christianity is not based on blind faith, but faith in evidence. The Bible teaches that we should use our minds (Isaiah 1:18; Matthew 22:37) to "test all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21) in light of evidence (Acts 1:3, 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:6), and to contend for the faith intellectually (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). The Bible is trustworthy. Christians do not need to discount the Bible or to water down their faith by putting faith in the theory of evolution.

Conclusion: Creation and evolution are competing worldviews that cannot be successfully reconciled.

Evolution is poor science. It is a bankrupt philosophy that is harmful to society. It is contrary to Christianity. The evidence is greatly against it. Why are you still clinging to it?