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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Ten Books and what they mean for Evolutionary Creationism

Quick Quiz. How many books do you think possess all of the following characteristics?

  • Promotes the compatibility between biological evolution and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith
  • Is a non-academic work targeted at a popular reading level
  • Was published in North America prior to 2003
To the best of my knowledge, the right answer is none. A big fat zero. Zilch. As of 5 years ago, you could not find a single popular-level work by an North American Evangelical Christian which dissented from the evolution / Christian faith conflict thesis. (Note: There were some published in Europe). Fast-forward 5 years. As of June 2008, North American Evangelicals have at least 10 books that meet the above characteristics. They are as follows:

The Ten Books
1. Richard Colling, Random Designer (2004)
2. Darrel Falk, Coming to Peace with Science (2004)
3. David Wilcox, God and Evolution (2004)
4. Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith, Paradigms on Pilgrimage (2005)
5. Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe (2006)
6. Francis Collins, The Language of God (2007)
7. Gordon Glover, Beyond the Firmament (2007)
8. Deborah and Loren Haarsma, Origins (2007)
9. Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin (2008)
10. Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (2008)

Why did Evangelicals have to wait so long to receive this type of book? Why did this mini-explosion of books occur now? Why is the author profile for all these books nearly identical (they are almost all scientists)? Allow me to provide my own speculations.

What this Tells Me
1. Evolutionary Creationism (EC) is no longer a radical fringe position within the Evangelical community. We have a dozen well-educated Evangelicals who defend both Christian and scientific orthodoxy, and who have invested the time and energy to communicate science/faith compatibility to the typical Evangelical in the pew. The scholarly dialogue phase regarding the scientific merits of biological evolution within the mainstream evangelical scientific community may be practically complete; we are now in a phase where this community is communicating their (majority?) consensus to their Christian brothers and sisters who are less comfortable with scientific discussions.

2. This communication to the masses is however, very, very recent. Even 10 years ago, North American Evangelicals would have had a tough time finding any popular level discussion that was even sympathetic to an EC view, let alone one that actively promoted it. Now Evangelicals can pick and choose among several options. So, to those EC’s that are frustrated with the pace of the acceptance of EC ideas I say: “Please be patient, we have only started to get this message out.”

3. Notwithstanding this consensus among Evangelical scientists, there is a huge gap within the Evangelical academic community. (See also the historical perspective & future directions post by Ted Davis). Whereas the discussion among evangelical scientists is relatively mature, the discussion among biblical scholars is just beginning. As to Evangelical theologians, do they even realize that there is a discussion?

What we need to do
1. The time is past for lamenting the lack of sound scientific resources on the topic of biological evolution from a distinctly Evangelical perspective. We probably have all that we really need. What we should be doing is promoting the resources that are already available.

2. Given that this reconciliation within the Evangelical community is so recent, and that the past conflict was so harsh, those of us that are comfortable with an EC perspective need to exhibit a spirit of understanding, patience and love when discussing these issues with other Evangelicals (see also particularly Richard Colling’s recent post on this topic).

3. Finally, we need to do something to wake up the Evangelical theological community. As I have said in the past, it is not sufficient for theologians to explain historic theological approaches that may have been appropriate for Christians in ages past. For the good of our faith we also need approaches that make sense of our modern and post-modern world. And the relationship between science and faith (and evolution & faith in particular) is one of the most salient issues causing angst among modern & post-modern Evangelicals.


Stephen Douglas said...

Good post. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

I'm no Calvin or Moltmann, but perhaps it would get the lazy theologians off their chairs if other upstarts like me with only a BA in theology beat them to the punch. Obviously, a look at certain doctrines effected by evolution is needed, but I think just as necessary is the elevation of hermeneutical principles already latent in evangelicalism such as determining original cultural context, audience relevance, and genre. In fact there's no doubt that for a long term, fade-in strategy, a good system of hermeneutics as a factor in a shift towards evangelical acceptance of science is absolutely essential because it primarily seeks to free the Bible from the scientific constraints we place on it.

Perhaps part of the problem has been that simply declaring that "evolution is compatible with the Christian faith" is not attractive to the popular theologians because it broaches an unpopular subject that has plenty of folk science deemed adequate to render it unnecessary. The kind of theology that will reach Joe Baptist and open him up to looking at real science is currently being written on a popular level and is often not called "theology" at all. The only hope for bringing it to the devout and semi-thoughtful masses in a lasting way is to correct their view of the Bible as a magic book written to them personally in English - as long as this is the case, we'll be continually met with dismissals such as Dee's at the bottom of this page.

Glen Davis said...

Helpful post, although I think you're being a little too pessimistic about evangelical theologians.

In one of the most recent evangelical theological works that I've read - Bruce Waltke & Charles Yu's An Old Testament Theology - there is an open advocation of theistic evolution as the best understanding of the Genesis account. Waltke even footnotes Collins as being particularly helpful in his own journey.

The larger gap is at the level of preaching and pastors (which may have been what you had in mind - sorry if I miscontrued your comments).

dennis said...

Brian Maclaren's The Story We Find Ourselves In comes close: it was published in Feb 2003. I haven't read it, but apparently the creation /evolution issue is a major plot component.

Paul Bruggink said...

Good post, but what about Kenneth R. Miller's "Finding Darwin's God," (1999), Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett's "Evolution from Creation to New Creation" (2003), Ted Burge's "Science & the Bible: Evidence-Based Christian Belief" (2005), Margaret Gray Towne's "Honest to Genesis: A Biblical & Scientific Challenge to Creationism" (2003) and especially Keith B. Miller, editor of "Perspectives on an Evolving Creation" (2003)

Steve Martin said...

Hi Stephen,
Good comments. I for one welcome more from you like your Case Study: The Fall post.

Glen: Welcome. Thanks for the tip. I’m going to try to pick up Waltke’s book - a nod to TE / EC from the former president of the ETS?? Wow. I haven’t looked through the archives of ETSjets in a while – unfortunately I believe their resources are members-only now. It would be interesting to do a search for “evolution” on their archives.

You may be right that I should nuance my criticism of evangelical theologians. It seems that the OT scholars are pretty comfortable with the implications of ANE studies – (eg. All the WTS OT staff are solidly behind Enns - from what I've seen, it is the WTS systematic theology staff that seem to be against him). However, although these OT scholars provide some of the foundation for an EC view, I’ve never seen a mainstream Evangelical OT (eg. Wheaton, Gordon-Conwell type) explicitly support EC. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

Also, IMHO the OT issues (eg. Gen 1-11) are much easier to reconcile; it is the NT references to a literal Adam that are more difficult (see: my theological implications post). I’m wondering if any of the big evangelical NT theologians have tackled evolution?

Dennis: “The Story we Find Ourselves In” is very good. I enjoyed it immensely. I really enjoy McLaren's work (hey, his “Generous Orthodoxy” is on my top-10) but I know there are quite a few people that would not consider him an Evangelical.

Paul: Welcome. Looks like I should have added Towne’s book to my list. Thanks. However, the others probably don’t meet all the qualifications. Burge is a Brit (another good British author is Denis Alexander – I read his 2001 book “Rebuilding the Matrix” and I believe he’s coming out with another book shortly). Keith Miller’s book I’d consider more academic (I guess the qualification is subjective) – it too is on my “top-10” list – see my review here. Ken Miller & Martinez are Catholics while Peters may be orthodox (Lutheran) but probably not Evangelical. (BTW, I agree with your amazon reviews of both of the Peters & Martinez books – the second one was pretty redundant). Another interesting sidenote: Catholics seem (from my limited perspective) to be doing some good theological work (eg. Haught, Domning). We Evangelicals tend to scorn them wrt to the Galileo incident. Well look who appears out-of-touch now?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the list.

Paul Bruggink said...

Are you saying that Catholics and Lutherans can't be evangelical Christians?

Frank Hagan said...

Great list! I've read only two (Falk and Collins), and now have my summer reading list.

Also very good advice regarding communication to our brothers and sisters in the faith; the debate is pretty strong, and some soft words are needed to "turn away wrath."

I think you'll still find the "evangelical atheists" caustic and unrelenting in their condemnation of any talk of faith. They seem to have taken up permanent residence at sites discussing this issue from a scientific perspective, and seem eager to engage in theological discussion about our "delusion". While those discussions can be productive for both sides, they tend to obscure the point regarding harmonizing faith and science, confusing the audience beyond the fringe positions.

dennis said...

Re: McLaren not an evangelical - fair enough.

One early book (1984!) that deserves mention is Darwin's Forgotten Defenders by David Livingstone. Google it for the Amazon page (the link is too long to paste). This one is on my reading list as well.

Steve Martin said...

Paul: I guess it depends on your definition of Evangelical. I use John Stackhouse’s definition. My one criticism of Stackhouse’s definition is that he is implicitly assuming a 7th characteristic – Protestant. However, he is pretty explicit in another post that Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism are mutually exclusive sets. I think I agree with Stackhouse here. My own view is that both Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism (as well some other groups eg. Orthodox) are more-or-less mutually exclusive proper subsets of orthodox Christianity. I’m not as familiar with Lutherans, but IMO they are a little bit different. Some are certainly evangelical, while others could probably not even be considered orthodox Christians. Others that are theological conservative (ie. share many similarities to Evangelicals) may not be Evangelicals because they strongly identify with Lutheranism (don't really fit characteristic #6 of transdenominational) and would not even self-identify as Evangelicals. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where Peters stands, but I have the impression he probably would be hesitant to identify as an evangelical. I could be wrong.

Frank: Welcome. And thanks.

Dennis: Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders is also good. Livingstone is Irish, so another European. Another excellent collaboration by a European scientist / biblical scholar team is “Creation or Evolution: A False Antithesis” by Michael Poole and Gordon Wenham – published in 1987. Good luck finding this one though (I borrowed it from a dusty back room at University of Toronto – it doesn’t even circulate anymore!) I guess the point is that European evangelicals are about 20 years ahead of North Americans in this respect.

Steve Ranney said...

Speaking of 20 years ago, it was in 1994 that Mark Noll's Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was published, but I only read it a few years ago. A footnote in that book led me to Ronald Numbers' The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design which provides a comprehensive historical framework. BTW I also recently started reading Darwin's Forgotten Defenders which fills in a bit about how prior to the rise of fundamentalism, believers were dealing with evolution in a constructive way.

Anyway thanks for the list, and your point is made that in recent time, there is more output, which is a wonderful thing.

Steve Ranney said...

To Stephen Douglas - you are on to something when you say the upstarts could do it. Of course maybe you have a job teaching theology in which case you might get fired, but at least if you are young you might be more inclined to go out on a limb than someone who has a secure position and is in middle age.

I can really understand (being in that age bracket myself) how it would be scary for a pastor or a teaching theologian to 'come out' in this way.

I think it is a real tragedy that Sproul, according to something I read, actually tightened his position recently and disallowed even the 'framework view' of Geneis 1 and went to a 7 day creation. He is a guy who has the stature to make a statement that would really resonate. And frankly speaking, he's old, what can they do to him? He seems intellent enough even, to figure it out if he would think outside of his box a bit.

Gordon J. Glover said...

I used to be a big fan of Sproul. But over time, I've found him less and less helpful. His latest retreat back to YEC is the last straw for me. In typical Presbyterian "sola scriptura" fashion, he came to this conclusion -- not through a rigorous analysis of the data -- but through exegesis. But if history shows us anything, exegesis that is uniformed by observation leads to all sorts of error -- both theological and scientific. I thought Sproul was bigger than that, but I guess not.

Allan Harvey said...

Steve, I think you have the honor of hosting the first blog comment I have posted in my life. See if I can manage to do the process ...

While I generally agree with your points, I can think of a few books that were shortchanged in your analysis. Much like the recent book by the Haarsma's was not only about evolution, there have been previous books from evangelical perspectives about relating science and faith that repudiate "warfare" and are sympathetic to evolution as being part of God's creative work. The following come to my mind:
1) Richard Bube, former ASA President, in The Human Quest (1971) and Putting it all Together (1995) (the latter has had a big influence on the way I think about these things)
2) Robert Fisher, in God Did It, But How? (2nd edition was 1997) (not really pro-evolution but at least open to it)
3 George Murphy in Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World (2001)
4) Richard Wright in Biology Through the Eyes of Faith (1989)
5) Gregory Cootsona (a pastor, not a scientist) in Creation and Last Things (2002)

I also agree about (Ken) Miller, Peters & Hewlett not being "evangelical" in outlook -- that isn't an insult just a classification. I would also not put Margaret Towne on a list of "Evangelicals" -- while I found much of value in that book, I also came away thinking that I could never give it to my fellow Evangelicals because they would blanch at her un-evangelical (they might say "liberal") attitude toward Scripture.

I agree that, while it is a good start for the church to see people like Francis Collins, the Haarsmas, etc. with solidly evangelical convictions affirm God's evolutionary means of creating, it won't get much traction as long as it only comes from the scientists.
Theologians, pastors, and other Christian leaders are the ones in a position to really heal the damage of the "warfare" assumption. So Brian McLaren (loved as a prophetic voice by many evangelicals, despised as a traitor by others) is a help. Tim Keller (evangelical in anybody's book) is a help. We can perhaps dream of a renunciation of warfare by some big fish like Rick Warren (who did, after all, turn around to where he now cares about poverty and stewardship of creation) or Bill Hybels (who you'd think might not be into this sort of culture-war thing, but his church is heavy into Lee Strobel). In the meantime, we can be faithful in small ways. We never know if the college student we wean away from warfare today might become the next Bill Hybels in 20 years.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Allan,

Welcome to blogsphere. And thanks for your very thoughtful comments. After considering yours (and others) helpful points, my “mini-explosion” characterization may not be entirely accurate. Just like the Cambrian explosion may not be quite the stark break from the preceding ages that some believe it to be, the recent flurry of evangelical books on evolution can trace its roots to earlier similar works. Still, I believe the conclusions I stated are accurate, particularly #3 as you stated as well.

Also, thanks for a wise and optimistic conclusion. Hey, Bill Hybels had the guts to admit that his whole program was flawed. Maybe he can do something similar on the relationship between science & faith :-).

Steve Ranney said...

>In typical Presbyterian "sola scriptura" fashion, [Sproul] came to this conclusion -- not through a rigorous analysis of the data -- but through exegesis. - Glover

There seems to be a sort of polarization going on, a taking of sides. I have been reading Darwin's Forgotten Defenders and am struck with the respect theologians dialogued, even despite disagreements about whether or how evolution could be fitted into the Christian faith. This was in the late 19c and before the rise of more militant fundamentalism. People like Sproul unfortunately are thoughtlessly picking up on the polarization of the Dawkins types.

Anonymous said...

I find McLaren to be nutty. He's one of the most elusive Christians out there right now. I would NEVER look at him as an example of an evangelical who believes in evolution, since he may be very close to being a universalist. Not to mention he may deny the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which is just plain unorthodox, since he hangs out with hyper preterests a lot.

For an evangelical who believes in evolution, I would much rather go to ALlister McGrath, Bruce Waltke, Henri Blocher, Derek Kidner, Gordon Wenham, and others. William Lane Craig has also said he doesn't have a problem with darwinian evolution from a biblical perspective. He believes in common descent, but from more of a progressive creationist standpoint because he thinks the scientific evidence points that way. He wouldn't have any problem with darwinian evolution if it were true though. You also have John Stott, Carl F.H. Henry, and even Billy Graham who have said they don't have a problem with evolution. And of course B.B. Warfield of long ago. And evangelical scholars Mark Noll, and David Livingston. Mark Noll is from Wheaton, and Henri Blocher, who is an O.T. professor, is too, and teaches there right now, and he doesn't have a problem with evolution.

Everyone I've mentioned, however, believes Adam was a literal person however. Though I've never heard McGrath say his opinion. But a few leave room for pre-admamites.

airbornisgood4u said...

same person as last post:

"I’ve never seen a mainstream Evangelical OT (eg. Wheaton, Gordon-Conwell type) explicitly support EC. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough."

Well Wheaton profs can't exactly come out and say they believe in evolution, though most all the science department does. They've had Keith B. Miller come in talk for them. haha.

But Walton teaches there, and so does Henri Blocher. In Henri Blocher's book "In the Beginning", which is a long theological exploration of Genesis 1-5, he says that God may have wanted to create Adam through an evolutionary process and he has no problems with this. He also says that Adam and Eve probably existed in the neolithic revolution. Which I'm assuming he got from Kidner, and Kidner allowed for Pre-admamites.

So there's one from Wheaton that doesn't have a problem with evolution. To actually come out full force and go campaigning for evolution would get very bad PR in an environment like that though.

reyt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Accepting evolution was the first step to accepting "liberal Christianity" and then apostasy. I would accept some version of intelligent design.

Crowhill said...

Sorry to be commenting on an ancient thread, but do you know of any good DVDs that address the topic of evolution in a way that would be good for kids with a Christian school (anti-evolution) background?

Frank Hagan said...

There are several references at BioLogos, founded by NIH Director Francis Collins:


Anonymous said...

One Christian author said,

"Genesis is not a story of human origins but of Israel’s origins.

If we see Adam as a story of Israelite origins, it will help us make sense of at least one nagging question that begins in Genesis 4:13—one that readers of Genesis, past and present, have picked up on. After Cain kills Abel, he is afraid of a posse coming after him, which casually presumes the existence of other people. So God puts a mark on Cain and exiles him to Nod, a populated city to the east. There he takes a wife and they have a child, Enoch, and Cain proceeds to build a city, named after his son, in which others can live.

Some have solved this problem by saying that Adam and Eve had a lot more children that Genesis simply neglects to mention, and so Cain married his sister. I suppose if one must, one can take refuge in this explanation. But this scenario seems a bit desperate—not to mention uncomfortable. Plus, this explanation is completely made up. Genesis neither says nor hints that the residents of Nod are Adam and Eve’s offspring. They are just “there.”

If the Adam story is about the first humans, the presence of other humans outside of Eden is out of place. We are quite justified in concluding that the Adam story is not about absolute human origins but the beginning of one smaller subset, one particular people."

The Bible is not a science book. It is a covenantal book from Genesis to Revelation. It tells the story of Old Covenant Israel from its birth (Genesis) to its end in 70 A.D. (Revelation). It needs to read from an audience relevance viewpoint. What did it mean to the original audience?

Preterism helps to refute YEC and a global flood. Read Beyond Creation Science.