Answers to Christians’ Questions about Evolution: summary and response (Tim Keller)

In his paper, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, Tim Keller speaks about the science/religion and evolution issue with sensitivity and insight from the perspective of a church pastor.  Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and popular Christian author.  Keller begins this paper with two opposite views about religion and science:

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all…However, there are many who question the premise that science and faith are irreconcilable. Many believe that a high view of the Bible does not demand belief in just one account of origins.

In other words: Is evolution compatible with the Bible?  View 1: no.  View 2: yes.  This effectively introduces the topic.  From here, Keller poses four main problems Christianity can raise against evolution.

  1. Biblical authority – Theistic Evolution requires a non-literal interpretation of Genesis.
  2. The confusion of biology and philosophy – Evolution as science and evolution as philosophy.
  3. The historicity of Adam and Eve – New Testament theology of sin presumes genetic inheritance of a sin nature.
  4. The problem of violence and evil – If God created through evolution, it seems to make God more culpable of introducing sin and death into the world.

Tim Keller notes that from his experience, it is problems 1-3 that challenge most Christian laypeople, although he personally views 3-4 as both related and more deeply troubling.  For this reason, he addresses issues 1-3 most closely.

Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?
Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Essentially, this argument allows for another legitimate way of interpreting Genesis, if not literally.  That is to say, perhaps it’s not meant to be understood literally, based on its genre.  In order to understand an author, one must honor how he wants to be understood.  If Matt wrote me an e-mail including the following sentence: “I’m not afraid that people will think your next post is plain stupid”, it would be unfair for me to tell my wife that Matt said “People will think your next post is plain stupid.”  The context of information is crucial for interpretation.

Apart from common arguments from the poetic elements of the Genesis creation narrative to support a non-literal interpretation, Keller uses an interesting argument that was new to me (he attributes it an article by Meredith Kline entitled “Because it had not rained”).  Instead of paraphrasing and risking losing something, I have simply quoted his entire argument below:

Genesis 1 shows us an order of creation that does not follow a ‘natural order’ at all. For example, there is light (Day 1) before there are any sources of light–the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4). There is vegetation (Day 3) before there was any atmosphere (Day 4 when the sun was made) and therefore there was vegetation before rain was possible. Of course, this is not a problem per se for an omnipotent God. But Genesis 2:5 says: “When the Lord God made the earth and heavens–and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, because the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no man to work the ground.” Although God did not have to follow what we would call a ‘natural order’ in creation, Genesis 2:5 teaches that he did. It is stated categorically: God did not put vegetation on the earth before there was an atmosphere and rain. But in Genesis 1 we do have vegetation before there is any rain possible or any man to till the earth. In Genesis 1 natural order means nothing–there are three ‘evenings and mornings’ before there is a sun to set! But in Genesis 2 natural order is the norm.

He concludes that this conflict between the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 means that Genesis 1 is not meant to be understood literally, and consequently, Genesis 1 does not teach a a literal six-day creation.

Now to the second problem:

Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?
Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.

This issue seems more straightforward to me, although pertinent.  One can imagine God creating through evolution, and so one need not conclude that human life is arbitrary and simply the sum of all the traits that contribute to our survival.  Two comments.  One, there are definitely scientists out there who want to confuse these two things, and the church should be concerned about Godless philosophy.  At the same time, it does seem dangerous that so many Christians confuse these two things: evolution as science and evolution as atheistic philosophy, because they unfairly treat the two issues as synonymous.  Keller says it is possible to believe in EBP (Evolutionary Biological Processes) and not GTE (Grand Theory of Evolution).  I love the terminology.

Before discussing questions 3-4, Keller disclaims that while 1-2 are more or less trivial to him, issues 3-4 are much deeper and more difficult to deal with.

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?
Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.

Keller gives lots of Biblical evidence I can’t easily discuss here to support the historicity of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2-3 doesn’t have the same poetical markings as Gen. 1; NT theology refers to Adam as a real person; Near Eastern peoples didn’t tend to historicize myth, but rather mythologize history).  Questioning the historicity of Adam and Eve greatly affects how we read the rest of scripture, which has scary implications (scripture is imperfect).  Keller does cite a model, though, by Derek Kidner that allows for EBP and a real Adam and Eve (selected out of the evolutionary chain and endowed with the image of God).  Any such theory, though, has problems (presence of death before sin, lack of any real scriptural support) and no doubt requires us to alter some aspect of our the traditional understanding of the Genesis account.  To learn more about the details of this model, I recommend you just read the Keller article.

I’d like to briefly discuss Keller’s conclusion, in which he states:

My conclusion is that Christians who are seeking to correlate Scripture and science must be a ‘bigger tent’ than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists.

I feel like this nails the issue.  We can’t throw Christians out of the church (at least in our minds) because they’re evolutionists.  Believing in EBP is not the same as denying the virgin birth or resurrection.  EBP is not heresy, and it is sin to treat Christians who have a high view of God and the Bible and worship Him with all their heart as if they are heretics. God desires unity in his church, not infighting, although this doesn’t mean that we all have to share the same opinion about everything (1 Cor. 1:10).  For Keller, it’s not possible to deny the historicity of Adam, and I feel the same, but there are definitely plausible models for theistic evolution.  I’d really love for the church to stop attacking itself and focus on more important issues, such GTE instead of EBP.  Go team!

-James, the younger

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2 Responses to Answers to Christians’ Questions about Evolution: summary and response (Tim Keller)

  1. cheno says:

    Hey Guys,

    Two things I would throw into the discussion:

    Firstly, I’m very interested in what you guys think about the idea of the special creation of Man. I don’t think you have to read Genesis 1 literally to at least suppose that God used special means to fashion Adam. (forming out of dust and breathing into versus speaking into existence) What is your take? Is this even a valid rabbit trail to run down?

    Secondly, a wholesale endorsement and plug of Edger Andrew’s book Who Made God (ISBN# 9780852347072) as a delightfully thought-provoking book. I can vouch for his treatment of statistics as accurate and excellent, and so by extrapolation will assume that his treatment of physics and biology are equally excellent. Oh also, he’s wonderfully witty and has so many degrees, I don’t even know what most of them ARE. Anyway, I mention it because as I read it, it kept reminding me of you guys and this blog, especially the direction you’ve been taking it lately, and because of ridiculously smart physics, but explained where I can understand.

    um, I forgot where I was going with that…

  2. Susan Seaman says:

    EBP vs. GTE – I think defining this difference is very helpfpul to the discussion but I don’t think that most of the world knows there is a difference. I don’t have a problem with other Christians believing in EBP. But GTE is what is taught in public schools and most universities (both public and private). As a philosophy, its implications are HUGE. I think it’s up to the Christian scientists and teachers who believe in EBP but not GTE to draw the line and explain the difference. As it often is, they appear to be in a camp (GTE) that they are not really in. If creationists and EBPers could join forces against GTE – that would be great.

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