Theistic Evolution is the old earth creationist belief that God used the process of evolution to create life on earth. The modern scientific understanding of biological evolution is considered to be compatible with the Bible.
There are varying degrees of theistic evolution. Many theistic evolutionists believe that God set in motion the laws of nature that led to evolution, but He did not take an active role in guiding the evolutionary process. He merely let nature take its course. Others believe that God actively guided the evolutionary process (this is also known as Evolutionary Creationism).
From a theological perspective, there is nothing in the Bible that would prohibit belief in evolution. In fact, the Bible even implies that God used evolution. Concerning Day 3 of creation, Genesis 1:11-13 says:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13And the evening and the morning were the third day.
As you can see, God told the earth to bring forth vegetation, and in verse 12, the earth brought it forth. It is the earth, with its laws of nature that God instituted, that did the work. The same is true for the animal creation on Days Five and Six
20And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life… (Day Five)
24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. (Day Six)
In each case, the Bible implies that the earth was doing the work. To theistic evolutionists, this is proof that God created through the use of evolution.
To properly understand theistic evolution, we should examine several topics.
The creation stories of Genesis is generally thought by theistic evolutionists to be allegorical in nature. This is to say that the creation account should be understood to be symbolic. For example, many TE’s do not believe that Adam was a literal person, but rather the story of Adam represents the early beginnings of mankind in general. Theistic Evolutionist Carl Drews states,
Genesis 2:7 states “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The Hebrew word for “man” used here is “Adam” (with a long ‘a’ in the second syllable). According to my Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, “this noun usually refers to mankind in the collective sense (Gen 1:26, 27). It is also a proper noun, Adam, the first man whom God created (Gen 2:20). ‘Adam’ is translated ‘persons’ in Numbers 31:28, 30, 35, 40.” So from the very beginning we have a hint that Adam represents all mankind, not just single individual.1
The allegorical understanding of Genesis is in contrast to the literal understanding of Genesis. Many old earth creationists, and all young earth creationists, believe Adam was a real, individual man.
The main difference between these two boils down to this. When God was finished with creation, he imparted mankind with an eternal soul. Man could now choose for himself to follow God or not. With a literal view, God imparted this eternal soul to two people, Adam and Eve, and the rest of mankind descended from them. With the allegorical view, when God was finished with mankind’s creation, there were probably thousands of humans on the planet who would have instantly received an eternal soul.
A belief in theistic evolution means a choice between allegory and literal. Although many TE’s believe the creation story is allegory, it is also possible for TE’s to take a literal approach, and some do so.
Many who believe in theistic evolution do not believe that Genesis is a scientifically accurate account, since it was written in a pre-scientific age and originally intended for religious instruction; as such, seemingly chronological aspects of the creation accounts should be thought of in terms of a literary framework. The framework interpretation means that the days of creation are not consecutive days, but rather represent specific events of the creation week. This means the days overlap one another. For example, plants are described as being created on Day 3, and animals on Days 5 & 6. The fossil record shows new plants and animals appearing together, so these events (Days) overlap each other.
The main complaint is that the order of creation, including the creation of light, is considered out of order, and thus it is not scientifically accurate. In our opinion, Genesis can be considered scientifically accurate, even with evolution. This problem is solved if you have the proper frame of reference. The creation account is written from the perspective of a person standing on the surface of the earth. From this perspective, observation of the events described in Genesis are indeed in the correct order.
Although theistic evolutionists vary in their positions, from conservative to liberal, there is no reason why a theistic evolutionist cannot be conservative, believing in an inerrant Bible.
(C) Copyright 2000 by Carl Drews
I believe that the Bible never requires me to bear false witness about God’s creation.
Next to these great beliefs, a biological theory seems pretty unimportant. That impression is correct. Do I “Believe in Evolution” like I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! I accept the Theory of Evolution like I use the Quadratic Formula; they are both useful for a certain class of problems that I sometimes have to solve. I certainly do not place my eternal life and soul in the care of a scientific theory or a mathematical formula. I am no atheist. I place my entire being in the hands of God Almighty through his Son, Jesus Christ.
I reject the idea that evolution and Christianity are always and must be in opposition to each other. I reject the notion that if the scientific theory of evolution is true, then Christianity must be false. I reject the idea that people who accept evolution must be atheists. I reject the idea that the scientific theory of evolution fundamentally denies the idea of God the Creator. I reject the idea that evolution and Christian faith are inevitably in conflict with each other and cannot be reconciled.
The Age of the Earth
There are too many scientific disciplines that state that the earth is more than 10,000 years old. Astronomy, genetics, linguistics, geology, plate tectonics, and archeology all say it is a lot older. The probable figure is about 4 billion years for planet Earth, and roughly 3 billion for life itself. We base our conclusions on appearances and scientific observations. The weight of evidence from all these disciplines is too much for me to dismiss. I do not find at all credible the assertions that the earth is only 10,000 years old and all the natural processes occurred within that time. (Bishop Ussher calculated 6,000 years old, and the Flood at 2348 BC.)
One often reads the statement that “evolution says the earth is billions of years old.” This statement is incorrect. Astronomy and geology say that the earth is billions of years old. Evolution draws on these disciplines for an estimate of the time in which the evolutionary processes can work. This point is important in order to realize the breadth of the quarrel about the age of the earth. If you assert that the earth is only 10,000 years old, you are disputing far more areas of the natural sciences than just a portion of biology.
Some young-earth creationists assert that the earth is 10,000 years old, and others assert that the earth is 6,000 years old. That’s a big difference: 4,000 years, or 67%. Bishop Ussher’s chronology, derived from the Bible, clearly states that the earth is 6,000 years old. Extending the age to 10,000 years conveniently places the date of Creation and the Flood beyond the oldest trees, and beyond the pyramids and dynasties of ancient Egypt. I have heard the following accusation from young-earth creationists: You are interpreting the Bible in the light of science; you should be interpreting science in the light of the Bible. (I have not heard a Bible verse to back up that charge.) 10,000 years is not what Bishop Ussher said. What is the reason for changing his number? Creationists who claim 10,000 years, unless they do so for purely Biblical reasons, should hear that same accusation ringing in their ears at least once.
The Whole-Earth Flood
There is not enough water to cover the entire earth, including the top of Mt. Everest (29, 028 feet above sea level). If the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica were to melt, it would raise sea levels only a few hundred feet (see calculation). If every cloud worldwide were to rain out all its water, it would still raise the sea levels only another inch. Genesis reports that the “fountains of the deep” spewed forth more water. Until geologists find evidence of these fountains, or discover the underground aquifers that hold 6 miles deep of water worldwide, I cannot honestly accept the idea of a non-miraculous worldwide flood. When evidence for fountains is discovered, I’ll be happy to take a look at it.
Calculation: Maximum estimate for raising of ocean levels from melting ice caps.
Greenland and Antarctica contain 97% of the world’s glacial ice. The area of Greenland is 840,000 square miles (source: Rand McNally Illustrated Atlas of the World, 1989). The area of Antarctica is 5,400,000 square miles. Since we want a maximum estimate, let’s assume that both of those places are solid ice right down to the waterline. The mean elevation of Greenland is 7,000 feet, so Greenland contains 5.88E+9 square-mile-feet of water (like acre-feet). The mean elevation of Antarctica is 6,000 feet, so Antarctica contains 3.24E+10 square-mile-feet of water. So the total amount of glacial ice is 3.828E+10 square-mile-feet.
Let’s further assume that the melting water is used only to raise the levels of the major oceans and seas, that the rising sea level does not spill over onto the land (we are estimating the maximum rise). The area of the oceans and seas is 139,100,000 square miles. So if we divide the square-mile-feet of ice by the square miles of the oceans, we obtain (3.828E+10 / 1.391E+8):
Compared to glacial ice, the amount of water in clouds around the world is only a trace amount. “If all of this [water] vapor were to suddenly condense and fall as rain, it would be enough to cover the entire globe with 2.5 centimeters, or 1 inch of water.” (from Meteorology Today, by C. Donald Ahrens, 2000, Sixth Edition, Chapter 5, pp. 108-109.) So we are left with the same figure of 275 feet.
Most creationists are aware of the huge disparity between this figure and the height of Mt. Everest. They propose various mechanisms during the Flood year to address the problem (vapor canopy, extremely catastrophic plate tectonics, underground aquifers). I do not find these theories credible on Biblical or scientific grounds.
Old Earth, Local Flood
There is a body of Christian thought that agrees with me, and it is sometimes termed “Old Earth, Local Flood.” One can find this thinking on the World Wide Web. There are many committed Christians who believe that creation took longer than 6 24-hour days, or that the whole-world flood reported was the entire known world at that time (Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean or the Black Sea basins).
There are many committed Christians who believe that Genesis and evolution are compatible. It angers me when Christian speakers mock “Theistic Evolution” on non-scriptural and non-scientific grounds. I believe that mockery is sin; because it creates contempt in the hearts of Christians instead of love for those whom Christ came to save, and it produces sharp resistance in the hearts of non-believers if they ever hear about it. It bothers me that self-described “fundamentalist” Christians seem to have no knowledge that there are Christians out there who accept evolution. (For what it’s worth, Pope John Paul II has stated that evolution is a theory that is worth serious consideration.). It bothers me to hear someone assume that all “evolutionists” must be atheists.
So what of the first 11 chapters of Genesis (before Abraham)? Either all these scientific disciplines are wrong, or we’re reading and interpreting our Bible wrong. As Christians we do not permit the Bible to lie, but we do permit it to be non-literal. Examples:
1. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” to His disciples (John 15:5). I believe that Jesus literally said those words, but I don’t believe that His words there are to be taken literally. Nobody claims that Jesus physically became a plant.
2. In Luke 10:30 Jesus does not quite say that the parable of the Good Samaritan never actually happened, but Christians are comfortable with assuming that it is a parable and not a historical event. The command of this parable is absolutely true for us, just as it was for the people in Jesus’ time! Much of Revelation is non-literal, but this does not make it any less true.
3. When Jesus was born and presented at the temple, Mary received an unsettling prophecy from Simeon that is recorded in Luke 2:35: “A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejected by many in Israel, and this to their undoing.” It is commonly accepted that this was not a literal sword, but the anguish that Mary would feel upon seeing her first-born son crucified.
4. In Exodus, the Lord God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, or allowed him to harden it himself. By my count, the phrase “hardened his heart” occurs 12 times in the narration: 7:13,22; 8:15,19,32; 9:12,34,35; 10:20,27; 11:10; and 14:8. The Hebrew word for “heart” there is Lev, and according to Spiros Zodhiates in The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (1991), “Often this word and its correlate, levav, means the physical heart, the blood-pumping organ. However, it is more commonly used for the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature.” (page 1624). The Hebrew word for “hardened” there is Chazaq, and it means “to be bound fast, be attached, to make firm . . . a word frequently used to describe battle scenes . . . used in describing Pharaoh’s heart . . . term was also frequently used for construction.” (Zodhiates, page 1611). Although Rameses II may have died of hardening of the arteries or a heart attack, that’s not what these verses are telling us. Zodhiates notes that “This [non-literal] usage has passed into common English with expressions such as: ‘heart and soul’ ” (page 1624).
5. The beautiful opening narration of John’s Gospel reads as follows:
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (NIV)
These words have some literal meaning: Jesus Christ has been part of the Trinity since the beginning of time. But the Word here is not literally the Bible, lest we conclude that the Bible always existed physically. The light is not literal photons, but the spiritual light of salvation to all mankind.
Many words, phrases, and stories in the Bible are obviously non-literal. Some cases are not so obvious. But it is a mistake to insist that certain portions of Genesis must be taken literally because it supports someone’s viewpoint. It incorrectly projects our Western data-centric mindset onto the Hebrew way of thinking. There are fundamentalist Christians who insist that the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) must be interpreted non-literally (they contend that this passage refers to a person who was harrassing Paul, not a physical ailment). The Bible uses non-literal metaphors and illustrations to reveal the ways of God because our language and experience cannot fully express His divine nature.
The slippery slope here is the danger of stating that too much of the Bible is non-literal, including the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalist Christians will claim that if you say that the first part of Genesis is non-literal, then you’ll say that the entire Bible is non-literal (like the proverbial camel’s nose poking in under the edge of the tent). That’s wrong. It is a logical mistake to assert that if you take a position in one direction you will inevitably go all the way to that extreme; it’s called the “All-or-Nothing Fallacy”. As an example of extremism: You are permitted and even encouraged by the Bible to discipline your children, but if you beat them you will go to jail (as you should). The extreme position is wrong, but the moderate position is okay.
I believe that everyone interprets the Bible, whether they claim to or not. Every time you make an interpretation, your salvation is at stake. So be very careful. Be guided by prayer, other Scripture, and the Holy Spirit. Notice that Paul rejects the non-literal Resurrection of Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20.
The Possibilities of Genesis
1. Perhaps the days stated in the Genesis 1 account are not 6 24-hour days. Scripture tells us that God’s days are not our days (2 Peter 3:8 “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” and Psalm 90:4 “A thousand years are to You like a yesterday which has passed”). The full context of these two verses is the great sweep of time from creation until the judgment day. Perhaps the days are not strictly sequential, although the order matches up pretty well with the theory of evolution. The account of Cain’s wife in Genesis 4:17 cannot be strictly sequential and literal. There is also the difficulty in reconciling Genesis 1 with the second creation account in Genesis 2, where man is created first and the animals afterwards (Genesis 2:18-20).
This possibility is often called the “Day-Age Theory.” A common criticism of the day-age theory is that the order of days/ages does not match up with evolutionary theory. The answer to this criticism is that if Genesis 2:18-20 is apparently free to change the order of creation for animals and man from Genesis 1:24-27, why should we conclude that the order of creation days is strictly sequential and non-overlapping? If I were permitted to change the Bible (and I’m not), the only switch I would make would be to swap days 3 and 4. The Biblical order matches up well enough for me. One suggestion for the sun and moon appearing late in the sequence (from physicist and Christian Pastor Carl Johnson at A Christ Walk Church in Kingsbury, Indiana) is that the early atmosphere was very cloudy, much like the planet Venus is today.
Hebrews 11:3 contains some support for the Day-Age view of creation. Verse 3 in the King James Version reads as follows: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Although this chapter is primarily about faith, we can glean some other details. The Greek word used here for “worlds” is “Ai�n”, which brings to mind our English word “eon.” Spiros Zodhiates says that “Ai�n; age, refers to an age or time, in contrast to k�smos (2889), referring to people or space.” “Ai�nes, ages, in Hebrews 11:3 refers to the great occurrences which took place in the universe.” (Zodhiates, page 1684) With this in mind, a better translation of Hebrews 11:3 might be: “Through faith we understand that the ages were framed by the word of God”. The word “made” here in Greek is “G�nomai”, and this word means “to be made or created from nothing (John 1:3, 10; Heb 11:3)” (Zodhiates, page 1700). Hebrews 11:3 refers to the great acts of creation described in Genesis 1-2, not to the human ages described in Genesis 4 onward. Thanks to reader Joe Grace for bringing Hebrews 11:3 to my attention.
Some people suggest that the “second creation” of animals in Genesis 2 refers to God creating one more animal of each kind in the Garden of Eden, so that Adam could name them as they paraded by. This is a valid theory; however, the Bible doesn’t say that. Here is Genesis 2:18-20 in the King James Version: “18 And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’ 19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” The Genesis text does not say “one more animal” or “another animal of each kind.” So this viewpoint is just a theory. We wonder why God didn’t simply bring in a few animals from outside the Garden for Adam to look at. Furthermore, if the “one more animal” interpretation of Genesis 2 is correct we would have to conclude that Adam himself is one more human, since humans were already created in Genesis 1.
(Note: The New International Version reads as follows for Genesis 2:18-20: “18 The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ 19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.” The NIV’s use of the phrase “had formed” in verse 19 seems to allude to the earlier creation in Genesis 1, and perhaps God is merely bringing the existing animals before Adam. However, in verse 18 God declares “I will make…”. This declaration indicates that God is about to create something, not just import existing animals.)
Genetic and linguistic studies (from 1987) have produced a theory that all humans living now are descended from a woman who lived in sub-Saharan Africa about 300,000 years ago (keywords: mitochondrial DNA). Of course the woman was immediately dubbed “Eve” by the popular media. Lest we conclude that this is truly Eve of the Bible, the scientists hastened to point out that they think there were other people living at that time, too (the other lines of descent either ended or combined into Eve’s line). If this theory helps people to think more realistically about Genesis 1-5, I see no harm in discussing it as a possibility. I see tremendous potential for harm in placing our Faith in it, if the theory is ever discredited.
2. Perhaps God created the earth to look older. Adam certainly looked like a 25-year-old man in Genesis, even though he had just been created. Did God create the earth looking older to fool us or to tempt us? Absolutely not! He created the earth in accordance with his own natural laws, so that the natural laws make sense when projected backward past creation, just like Adam’s body. The record of the past gives us clues to the future. Christians have always viewed creation as a divine miracle. Would anyone be bothered if someone claimed that the trees in the Garden of Eden had rings in their trunks? Why can’t God create mountains with sedimentary layers in them? Why can’t God create fossils in those layers? Is He not God Almighty?