This is the fourth post in a series on “An Evangelical Statement on Evolution (ESE)”. If you are new to the series, you may wish to read the Introduction, ESE Objectives, and ESE Approach first.
Crafting a statement on evolution may be difficult for Evangelical Evolutionary Creationists (ECs). On the one hand, this is a very contentious topic in the broader Evangelical community and we must be careful if we are to have a positive impact on that community. On the other hand, many salient aspects of the dialogue are contentious even within the very small EC community. In the last post we discussed “How” we should say what we need to say; in this one I’ll lay out my suggestions on “What” we should say.
Some Initial Notes
I) A qualification: This is a broad overview of the content, and not a suggestion for the final (or maybe even initial) wording. My hope is that others will take this content and create the final statement (more on that in the next post)
II) A note on style: I see three options for the ESE (other suggestions welcome)
- A style similar to the Clergy Letter Project
- A “We believe” statement – somewhat like a statement of faith
- An Open Letter to our Evangelical community
III) Sections: I have divided the content into 6 sections: Creation, New Creation, Scripture, Science, Biological Evolution, and Purpose. These do not need to form 6 sections in the final ESE but I believe all of this content should be included in some manner.
The ESE should begin with an emphatic affirmation that we believe in creation. We trust in a God to whom the universe owes its origin and being. We trust a loving Creator who continues to sustain his creation from moment to moment. Even though the term “creation” has been tarnished in our modern culture, we need to reclaim and proclaim creation. As Richard Bube outlined most eloquently back in 1971, “We Believe in Creation”.
B) A New Creation
We also look forward to a new creation, when “All things will be made new”. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is both our hope and our promise. But this New Creation is not something that is restricted to the future. It is in our hearts. The Kingdom of God has already come. This is the good news we want to share with others.
As Christians, we are “People of the Book”; as Protestant Christians we maintain the authority of Scripture; as Evangelical Protestants we continue to affirm the inspiration and authority of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, even when many of our Protestant cousins no longer agree with this claim.
Three points for discussion here:
1. I believe the ESE should remain silent on inerrancy, even as umbrella organizations like the NAE and the EFC are silent. Some Evangelical EC’s may still strongly affirm inerrancy (although, maybe not the version articulated in the Chicago Statement). Other Evangelical EC’s (maybe most) have strong reservations on inerrancy or at least would wish to qualify the term.
2. I am not sure if the ESE should say anything about scientific concordism. Some (probably a very few) ECs still maintain this hermeneutic strategy. So I’m tempted to be silent on this as well since a) I think the ESE should be as “big a tent as possible” and b) I think we should minimize negative terminology. On the other hand, as Rob mentioned here, scientific concordism is very problematic. So maybe the statement needs to say something as simple as “God’s Word is not intended to teach us science”.
3. More fundamentally, what does the ESE state about specific interpretations of Genesis – particularly Gen 1-11 or maybe just Gen 1-3? I am at a loss on what to say here – I’m tempted again to remain silent. How does one produce a statement which is acceptable to both staunch concordists (eg. Glenn Morton and Dick Fischer) and to those who maintain that the early part of Genesis bears little relation to historical or scientific fact (eg. Denis Lamoureux and Paul Seely)?
Two things we should mention:
1. Christians are called to be people of integrity. This includes the area of science. We need to go where the evidence leads us, not where we think the evidence should go.
2. Many Evangelicals fear science (see ESE objective 2b) . This is highly regrettable. Since science is the study of God’s handiwork, Christians should revel in the study of creation. As Stephen Matheson noted, opponents of faith stole the reverent study of science from the Church; it may be time to steal it back.
E) Biological Evolution
I have already received several suggestions for what to include here. My view is that we include only those claims that are well supported by the evidence. This basically maps to E1, E2, and E3 from Allan’s definitions for evolution:
- The earth is billions of years old and the geological record shows a progression in the development of life over many millions of years.
- Common descent: The evidence strongly indicates links between all living organisms both in the present and in the past. Thus we can say with some confidence that any two living organisms on earth today share a common ancestor (maybe in the very ancient past).
- Many different evolutionary mechanisms (eg. natural selection, genetic mutations, genetic drift) are important factors in the development of life on earth. It appears that God used these mechanisms in creating life, including the creation of humanity, the living organism he created in his own image.
Many people equate evolution with purposelessness. We must state categorically that this is incorrect. God has a definite purpose for creation; he has revealed much of that purpose through his written Word and the Word made flesh. God has both the ability and the will to accomplish that purpose, no matter what the cost (and thus his ultimate sacrifice). That his purpose will be accomplished is ultimately assured – even though he has given much freedom to his creation (including rebellious humanity).
I suggest that the ESE remain silent on design. I am sure that some ECs will be passionate in their desire to include some positive affirmation of design in the ESE; I am equally sure that many others (maybe most) would just as strongly wish to articulate a rejection of Intelligent Design (at least the ID movement). I think neither strategy would be helpful in accomplishing the goals articulated earlier. Design is a slippery concept, and I doubt we will achieve consensus on how we should articulate our position on it. More pertinent however, even though all of us believe that an intelligent designer (our God) was responsible for creation, design is not nearly as strong as purpose, is not as scripturally relevant as purpose, and is not as theologically important as purpose. Thus purpose must, in my opinion, be included the ESE while design should be neither affirmed nor rejected.
In our conclusion, I think we should affirm that we believe that harmony between faith and science can be achieved. However, we should also acknowledge that there are differences of opinion on how that harmony is reached. There is no point in pretending there is consensus when there may be significant differences of opinion between us on matters like biblical interpretation and models for divine action. What we share however, is a faith in the Creator God, and a desire demonstrate integrity in the study of his creation.
Finally, I believe we should directly address objective #2 defined earlier, ie. Helping those struggling with issues of faith and science. We might articulate it as follows:
- To those Evangelicals considering abandoning their faith because of the evidence for evolution we say, “The conflict between science and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith is completely unnecessary. We can trust the Creator God even if our understanding of how he created has changed over the centuries.
- To those Evangelicals that fear science we say, “Do not be afraid. Science is simply the study of God’s creation. A deeper understanding of creation can lead to a deeper appreciation of the Creator.”
- To those who are considering a commitment to Christ we say, “You CAN have the best of both worlds; both the one that leads to forgiveness, love, and spiritual fulfillment and the one that is intellectually satisfying and coherent with a scientific worldview.