Summary: Theistic evolution

A zoo keeper, walking by the animal cages one day, sees an orangutan with two books under his arms. One is the Bible; the other, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Surprised, the zoo keeper asks this rather extraordinary primate, “Why are you reading those books?”

“Well,” says the ape, “I just want to know who I really am.”

“What do you mean?” the zoo keeper responds.

“I want to know whether I’m my brother’s keeper,” says the ape, lifting up the Bible, “or if I am”—and he holds up Darwin’s book—“my keeper’s brother.”

However silly it is, this anecdote does lead to an important point regarding the contrast between the two common theories of human origins: evolution and the Creation narrative found in the Bible. Are we, as the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins claims, just highly evolved “African apes,” or are we beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)? In the former view, we are mere chance creations, “a chemical scum,” according to the late astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking. In the latter case, we are created beings so beloved by our Creator that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).1

It’s hard to imagine two more contradictory views of what is, perhaps, the most important question humans can ask: Who are we, and why are we here?

Or maybe not. Many people argue that an evolutionary understanding of human origins is quite compatible with the biblical account. They claim that evolution simply explains “scientifically” the process by which the God of the Bible created humanity. They are two harmonious streams that teach the same story and head toward the same place.

Is this view correct? Can evolution be harmonized with the Bible in a way that doesn’t destroy them both? This article takes the position that if evolution is true, biblical faith in Creation is pointless, and if Creation is true, evolution is impossible.

theistic and naturalistic evolution

Two overarching types of evolution are promulgated by those who believe in it. The first is naturalistic evolution. This is the evolution that’s taught in textbooks and the evolution of most biologists, paleontologists, and scientists who study or utilize the theory. It’s also the evolution that Charles Darwin—the one who brought the theory into the modern world—believed.

Naturalistic evolution. The essence of this theory goes somewhat as follows: The same laws of chemistry and physics that function today created, by accident, a simple form of life somewhere on earth between three and four billion years ago. Perhaps starting in a shallow pool, this simple life-form was able to repeatedly replicate itself to the point that over time—lots of time (billions of years, in fact)—it grew more and more complicated, branching out and evolving, through “random mutation” and “natural selection,” into all the varied forms of life known today—from mushrooms to sea urchins to human beings.

The crucial point in this model is that everything occurred through naturalistic processes alone. No supernatural, no divine intervention, was involved in any way or at any stage. The basic laws of nature got it all started to begin with and then, through long and violent eons of time, “created” everything that lives.

Theistic evolution, on the other hand, accepts the naturalistic concept about billions of years of life and death, extinctions, the survival of the fittest, and so on, and its advocates claim that this was the means the God of the Bible used to create all life-forms on our planet. Some claim that God got the process started and then stepped back, letting the laws of nature take over, which explains why billions of years of chance and luck were needed to bring intelligent humans into existence. Others assert that God not only started the process but at certain times intervened in order to keep the otherwise haphazard mechanisms going in the right direction. Still others argue that God didn’t step into the process until He breathed a soul into Adam or into some prehuman, which then made this being fully human, formed “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).

Regardless of these differing views, the crucial point is that theistic evolution, in contrast to naturalistic evolution, brings the God of the Bible into the evolutionary story of life’s origins. And, unfortunately, however well-meaning theistic evolutionists might be in their sincere attempt to meld evolution with the Bible, it doesn’t work.

Life versus death

For starters, central to the theory of evolution is the scenario of violence, suffering, extinctions, and death as the means of evolving life. Yet nothing in the Genesis Creation account hints at pain, suffering, violence, and especially, death. On the contrary, every step of Creation is depicted as “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21) until the finished work is declared “very good” (verse 31). On the other hand, nowhere in the Bible is death depicted as “good.” Death, or rather the potential of death, doesn’t arise until after the Creation has already been completed, and even then it’s presented only as a possibility, a potential state, and only if the prohibition against eating from a particular tree is violated.

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