Why Evangelicals (allegedly) can’t be Evolutionists:

As Matt pointed out in his most recent post, one of our objectives as we complete our series on Science and Religion is to take a look at the Biologos project and the recent series of papers that has been published by this organization.  In this post, I’m going to take a look at the paper by Bruce Waltke entitled “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process”.  To read this paper, either find it in the larger list of papers linked above, or click here.

In this paper, Waltke is trying to understand the barriers to accepting a theory of God-inspired evolution that exist in the minds of the “typical” evangelical today.  In order to answer this question, he wrote a survey and submitted it to heads of evangelical seminaries across the US (those whose presidents belong to the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents (FESP)), asking them to consider having their faculty participate in the survey study.  Although he admits that his list could have been improved and wasn’t exhaustive, he proposed the following 12 barriers, and participants in the survey were asked to agree or disagree with each of these statements.  You can skim them here and see the results, or continue to the discussion of each barrier individually below:

  1. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution.
  2. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 cannot be reconciled with the extended period of time demanded by creation by means of an evolutionary process
  3. God’s sentence of death and decay on the creation in connection with Adam’s Fall cannot be harmonized with the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  4. The theory of creation by the process of evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine of Adam’s headship over the whole human race.
  5. The Institute of Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  6. The Reasons to Believe Ministry, represented by Hugh Ross, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  7. Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.
  8. Ken Ham rightly argues “Scientists only have the present—they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins.
  9. The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age.
  10. The Gap Theory (i.e., the destruction of an original creation) explains the geological/fossil record) hinders me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
  11. The Framework Hypothesis (i.e., the days of Genesis are artistically arranged and not literal) hinder me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
  12. None of the above. I can accept the theory of theistic evolution.

Results from Survey

Notice that barriers 1-4 are purely theological/exegetical barriers, whereas barriers 5-11 are scientific.  One important note about the participants: everyone who started the survey finished, so there are no partial surveys.

First, let’s consider the theological barriers, starting with (1) and (2).

(1) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution.
(2) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 cannot be reconciled with the extended period of time demanded by creation by means of an evolutionary process

Most people who cite these reasons for rejecting evolution talk about interpreting Genesis literally.  For more discussion on interpreting the creation accounts of Genesis, see two of my previous posts, “Looking at the Text: Part I” and “Looking at the Text: Part II”.  These two barriers seem very similar to me, because they both stem from the so-called literal reading of Genesis.  (1) refers, though, to the creation account, whereas (2) refers also to the genealogies.  To agree with (1) is to say, that’s not how the Bible says God created the universe.  (2) says that there’s no way God could have created the universe by evolution, because the gaps in the genealogies aren’t big enough.  44% of the participants cited (1) as a barrier, but only 23% considered (2) a barrier.

The next two theological barriers are much deeper in a way.

(3) God’s sentence of death and decay on the creation in connection with Adam’s Fall cannot be harmonized with the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(4) The theory of creation by the process of evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine of Adam’s headship over the whole human race.

Barrier (3) adheres to the traditional view that Adam’s sin brought death and decay into the whole world, not just the human race.  In order for evolution to be true, there must always have been death and decay, at least in some form, until man emerged.  Barrier (4) supposes that the process of evolution calls into question the historicity of Adam and the introduction of sin into the world through him, which in turn calls into question the redemption brought into the world by the last Adam (Christ).  34% considered (3) a barrier; 28% agreed with barrier (4).

Now to the scientific barriers.  Barriers (5) – (7) refer to three popular Christian scientific alternatives to evolution.

(5) The Institute of Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(6) The Reasons to Believe Ministry, represented by Hugh Ross, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(7) Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.

Each of these barriers basically says: “Theory X is more plausible than evolution.”  (5) refers to Young Earth Creationism (six-day creation, OT genealogies show age of earth 6,000-10,000, the flood formed earth’s topography); (6) refers to Old Earth Creationism (big-bang cosmology conflated with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, but each “day” is a long period of time).  (7) refers to the most recent theory of Intelligent Design (evolution doesn’t occur on the molecular level-“irreducible complexity”).  19% considered (5) a barrier, 8% (6), and 36% (7).  Note how the results for (5) correlate to the results for (2) (23%) because of the genealogies.  Whereas OEC used to be the fad for “scientific” Christians, ID seems to be taking its place (23% v. 8%).  For more on these specific views, read Matt’s first post in these series, “A Creation Story”.

Barriers (8) and (9) are also two that you hear a lot:

(8) Ken Ham rightly argues “Scientists only have the present—they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins.
(9) The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age.

(8) is the age-old “agnostic” response to evolution that says that hypothesizing about the past isn’t science.  (9) is just an ad hoc response to what science tells us, sort of like “Well despite the evidence, it only looks like it happened that way”.  I’m not too surprised that these barriers didn’t get very much support: only 18% and 19%, respectively.  It would be interesting to see how this statistic would change, though, for a wider population of evangelicals.  I suspect it would be higher, but these barriers, once popular, seem to be going out of vogue.

Barriers (10) and (11) are a little odd, but for different reasons.

(10) The Gap Theory (i.e., the destruction of an original creation) explains the geological/fossil record) hinders me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
(11) The Framework Hypothesis (i.e., the days of Genesis are artistically arranged and not literal) hinder me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.

Barrier (10) is an old version of YEC that says that God waited a long time between Genesis 1:1 and the rest of creation.  Not really popular anymore, it sought to explain the fossil record in light of the creation account.  Only 6% considered this a barrier.  (11) is odd, because when people talk about “artistic” or “metaphoric” interpretations of Genesis, they usually are trying to support OEC or something else, but Waltke included it, because he has heard people give this reason as a barrier to accepting evolutionary theory.  Only 7% considered this a barrier.

Statement (12) on the survey wasn’t a barrier, but a statement that “I can accept the theory of theistic evolution.”  46% of the participants agreed with this statement, more than on any other statement.  One of the things that Waltke points out that he learned from his survey, which was attempting to define the barriers to accepting evolution for the “typical” evangelical seminary professor, is that there is no such thing as “typical.”  The world of evangelical academia is divided fairly evenly.  An observation I made from this survey is that ID has taken over much of the support that used to be given to YEC, OEC and other theories.  Also, the theological/exegetical barriers were all given more support than the scientific ones (excluding ID), which makes me think that in the minds of many evangelicals, this debate is primarily a theological one.

On another note, I’d be interested to know which of these barriers you find strongest.  Or if there is another one you think should be included, what is it?

-James, the younger brother

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One Response to Why Evangelicals (allegedly) can’t be Evolutionists:

  1. I know I’m a little behind on these, but I wanted to point out that one of the strongest barriers for me was that growing up in church, I was taught to think that evolution was absolutely out of the question and that any science teacher who taught it as a theory was attempting to brainwash me. While I was equipped to argue against evolution from a theological perspective, I was never taught to argue from a scientific perspective (at least not really – I was taught statistics, etc. to use in debates, but not much beyond that). In hindsight, I was ill prepared to strike up an argument on such a debate; though I was fired up to think I could and should do so. Getting beyond that to see this as two basic arguments (one being scientific and the other theological) was perhaps my greatest struggle.

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