Friday, 26 October 2018

Evolutionary creationism is consistent with scripture in the same way that all science is consistent with scripture

"How is evolutionary creationism consistent with the Bible?" is a question one hears from people who accept the fact of evolution, but wonder how the Biblical statements on creation can be harmonised with the modern scientific understanding on how the diversity of life appeared on this planet over its 4600 million year history. The short answer is that the Bible teaches who created the universe, not how. To that one can add that it is vital to grasp the concept of Divine agency where something is ultimately attributed to God, even though the actual nuts and bolts of how it was achieved can be explained by a secondary process. Finally, it is important to understand that God accommodates pre-modern views on the nature of the universe, rather than try to teach a scientifically accurate (by modern standards) view which would have been incomprehensible to a pre-scientific audience. Ultimately, there is no need to ask how to harmonise any aspect of science with the Bible as that is immaterial to its main purpose.

The Bible teaches a theology of creation. That is a statement that all theists would regard as fairly obvious, if only because of the frequent biblical statements asserting that God is the creator. Apart from the well-known statements in Genesis 1, references such as these:
  • Isa 40:28 "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable."
  • Isa 42:5 "Thus says God, the LORD,  who created the heavens and stretched them out,  who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it  and spirit to those who walk in it"
  • Isa 45:12 "I made the earth,  and created humankind upon it;  it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,  and I commanded all their host"
  • Isa 45:18 " For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!),  who formed the earth and made it  (he established it;  he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): 
  • Amos 4:13 "For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals,  makes the morning darkness,  and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!"
  • Mal 2:10 "Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?"
are hardly ambiguous in declaring that the very universe itself owes its existence to the creative power of God, who is the only God in the universe. Furthermore, as Isaiah 45v18 states, God formed it to be inhabited, a verse which strongly intimates that this act of creation was a deliberate one. As the previous verses indicate, the book of Isaiah has much to say about God as creator, and as Isaiah 65v17 declares, his interest in his creation is such that he will one day redeem and transform it:
For I am about to create new heavens  and a new earth;  the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 
What the Bible does not do however is teach a science of creation. Nowhere do we find a detailed elaboration of how galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, stars, solar systems, and planets are formed. The Bible is silent on the details of stellar nucleosynthesis, geomorphology, and plate tectonics. We read nothing about the details of island biogeography, developmental biology, meiosis, or DNA repair, partly because the details are irrelevant to a theology of creation, partly because they would have been incomprehensible to the original audience, but mainly because they do not add anything of substance to the ultimate assertion that God is creator. In other words they do not change our understanding of Divine agency.

If we look at Exodus 7:4-5 God asserts:
When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.
In fact, God explicitly states in verses 17-18 that he would strike the water with the staff in his hand in order to turn it to blood:
Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.
God however did not literally strike the Nile, but employed secondary methods (Aaron) to achieve his aims. Likewise, God did not literally stretch out his hand to smite Egypt, but rather employed secondary methods - the plagues - to achieve these ends.

That God can work in the natural world through secondary causes and have those causes ascribed to his will and purpose is of course uncontroversial given that we already accept that atmospheric physics and developmental biology allow us to explain respectively how storms form and babies develop from a single fertilised egg to an infant, while still accepting the Biblical references to these process being the handiwork of God:
  • 1 Sam 12:17-18 Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
  • Job 28:26 When He set a limit for the rain and a course for the thunderbolt,
  • Zech 10:1 The Lord who makes the storm clouds; and He will give them showers of rain, vegetation in the field to each man.
  • Jer 10:13 When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, and brings out the wind from His storehouses.
  • Jer 51:16 When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain And brings forth the wind from His storehouses.
  • Jer 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.
  • Psa 139:13 For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb.
  • Job 10:10-11 Did You not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese; clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews?
  • Job 31:15 Did not He who made me in the womb make him, and the same one fashion us in the womb?
  • Isa 44:2 Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you
  • Isa 44:24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone."

Certainly, these verses are fairly emphatic in directly ascribing to God the formation of infants in the womb. In fact, the last verse not only refers to God as forming people from the womb also refers to God as creator. Appealing to that verse as evidence against evolution would also just as validly be used to argue against any attempt to promote a belief in 'theistic embryogenesis' as well as 'theistic evolution.' Accepting the scientific explanations of the nuts and bolts of how the universe was formed and how the diversity of life appeared is entirely compatible with a theology of creation in the same way as accepting the sciences of meteorology and developmental biology are compatible with accepting the references to God being behind the marvelous process of birth and the awesome majesty of the storm clouds.

It is also important to keep in mind that the Bible accommodates, without endorsing, pre-scientific views of the universe. The classic example of this is the reference to the creation of the firmament in Genesis 1. As modern scholars realise, this firmament is solid, separates waters above from waters below, and has embedded in it the stars. As Old Testament scholar Peter Enns notes, the firmament "is understood by contemporary biblical scholars as a solid structure" and asserts:
The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another. [1]

In his book "The Lost World of Genesis One", Old Testament scholar John Walton likewise reminds us that Genesis 1
...does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions. The Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their “scientific” understanding of the cosmos. They did not know that stars were suns; they did not know that the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not know that the sun was much further away than the moon, or even further than the birds flying in the air. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of deity as well as to hold back waters. In these ways, and many others, they thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today. And God did not think it important to revise their thinking. [2]
The upshot here is that taking Genesis 1 literally in order to obtain a science of creation would oblige the exegete to adopt unreservedly the Biblical cosmogeography of a flat earth covered by a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below. This alone is enough to point out that Genesis 1's aim is not to provide a scientifically accurate account of origins, but be the foundation text of a theology of creation, one which holds irrespective of the scientific details of how it happened.


I have refrained from commenting on the science because this article is written for the benefit of a person who accepts the fact of evolution and needs no elaboration of the evidence. However, while I regard any attempt to harmonise the creation narratives with what modern science has to say as making the mistake of trying to equate a science of creation with a theology of creation, it is fascinating to note what the renown palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris, a Christian believer, has to say:
In essence, we can ask ourselves what salient facts of evolution are congruent with a Creation. In my judgement, they are as follows: (1) its underlying simplicity, relying on a handful of building blocks; (2) the existence of an immense universe of possibilities, but a way of navigating to that minutest of fractions which actually work; (3) the sensitivity of the process and the product, whereby nearly all alternatives are disastrously maladaptive; (4) the inherency of life whereby complexity emerges as much by the rearrangement and co-option of pre-existing building blocks as against relying on novelties per se; (5) the exuberance of biological diversity, but the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence; (6) the inevitability of the emergence of sentience, and the likelihood that among animals it is far more prevalent than we are willing to admit." [4]
Special creationism looks for the hand of God in the wrong place, down at the level of the individual species. However, just as we see the hand of God in history not in the individual events, but in the broad sweep, if we step back and look at the grand sweep of life with its convergence towards sentience, and as Simon Conway Morris notes, the 'salient facts of evolution that are congruent with creation', we can see God in the grand plan. Rather than see God as designer, we see God as the grand architect, working through imperfect secondary causes, but ultimately achieving his goal.


1. Enns P "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That’s Not the Point" BioLogos Jan 14 2010
2. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 14. Walton differs from other scholars on the precise nature of the raqia, but this difference does not alter the his fundamental point that the creation narrative here reflects a pre-modern cosmogeography.
3. Simon Conway Morris Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003: Cambridge University Press) p 329

Parts of this article have been adapted from earlier ones on this site