Saturday, 18 November 2017

Why "Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique" probably won't be worth the effort of reading.

The success of organisations such as BioLogos and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in showing why evolution and Christianity are not mutually exclusive has clearly rattled the conservative wings of the Reformed and Evangelical faith traditions, as shown by a soon-to-be released book modestly entitled “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique”. Of course, there is no credible scientific evidence that remotely calls into question the fact of common descent and large scale evolutionary change, so no amount of argumentation will make the scientific facts vanish. Furthermore, theological opposition to evolution stems primarily from the fact that the doctrine of Original Sin demands universal human descent from two people. Original Sin, particularly in its extreme Reformed guise has been subjected to considerable criticism over the centuries, with many pointing out that it owes much to Augustine and his demonstrably flawed reading of Romans 5:12. Given these facts, it is entirely reasonable to dismiss this book as yet another desperate attempt by anti-evolutionists to preserve a crumbling theological position.

Reviewing a book that has not been released (at time of writing) is of course impossible, so I must stress at the start that this is not a review of the book. Rather, it is an exercise in determining the likelihood that a book will overturn a well-established scientific theory, based on factors such as the reputation of the contributors, their areas of expertise, what they have previously written on the subject, and what experts in the relevant areas of scholarship think of their positions on those subjects. In the absence of a credible book review, being able to determine without a review whether a book is worth buying is definitely a skill that everyone needs to acquire.

The first point that needs to be stressed is whether the theological critique in “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” (TE:SPTC hereafter) is representative of all major Christian faith traditions, or is reflective merely of a narrow sectarian view. Certainly, the fact the title is not qualified with a reference to a particular faith tradition means that it would not be unreasonable to expect the theological section of TE:SPTC to reflect views from (at a minimum) Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed faith traditions. This is however definitely not the case. The contributing authors to the theological section come exclusively from the conservative part of the Reformed and Evangelical communities:
  •  Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary.
  • John D. Currid, professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Guy Prentiss Waters, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Gregg R. Allison, professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Fred G. Zaspel, associate professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, Pennsylvania.
This is not to say that the contributions are automatically flawed because they come from the conservative section of part of the broader Protestant tradition. As I have said before, this is not a book review. However, the fact the contributing authors are drawn not just exclusively from the Protestant tradition, but the conservative part of the Reformed / Evangelical traditions means it is unlikely to be of use to someone wanting a broad critique of theistic evolution, instead of yet another conservative evangelical apologetics tome. Of course, the fact the book is published by Crossway Publishers, the print division of Crossway which is a non-profit Evangelical Christian ministry is another broad clue that the book is less likely to be a work of serious scholarship, and more an Evangelical Christian apologetics work.

The need for such a book to have contributors from all the main faith traditions, rather than the Southern Baptists / Presbyterians is that the doctrine of Original Sin is not the same across the main faith traditions. For a start, the Reformed doctrine of Original Sin teaches that humanity inherits not just mortality and a fallen nature, but the guilt of Adam’s sin, as chapter 6 of the Westminster Confession of Faith notes:
1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 3:13, 2 Cor. 11:3) This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. (Rom. 11:32)
2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, (Gen. 3:6–8, Eccl. 7:29, Rom. 3:23) and so became dead in sin, (Gen. 2:17, Eph. 2:1) and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. (Tit. 1:15, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10–18)
3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; (Gen. 1:27–28, Gen. 2:16–17, Acts 17:26, Rom. 5:12, 15–19, 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45, 49) and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. (Ps. 51:5, Gen. 5:3, Job 14:4, Job 15:14)
4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, (Rom. 5:6, Rom. 8:7, Rom. 7:18, Col. 1:21) and wholly inclined to all evil, (Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21, Rom. 3:10–12) do proceed all actual transgressions. (James 1:14–15, Eph. 2:2–3, Matt. 15:19) [1] (Bold emphasis mine)
By contrast, the Catholic Church view on Original Sin makes no reference to inherited guilt and denies that human nature is entirely corrupted:
404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed”—a state and not an act. (360; 50)

405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (2515; 1264) [2] (Bold emphasis mine)
Certainly, the Catholic position as written still requires monogenism – the universal descent of the entire human race from a single ancestral pair – in order for original sin to be transmitted, but it differs significantly enough from the Reformed position for any book critiquing theistic evolution that wants to be taken as anything other than yet another conservative evangelical apologetics book to have contributions from members of the Catholic Community.

The absence of any contribution from the Orthodox community is likewise a serious problem with this book in terms of it being seen as an authoritative, credible critique of theistic evolution. Like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox reject total depravity and the inheritance of Adam’s guilt. Furthermore, as George Kalantzis notes in Greek Patristic and Eastern Orthodox Interpretations of Romans:
Unlike Augustine and much of the Western tradition, for Theodore, Chrysostom, and Theodoret, the Fall neither introduced mortality as an ontological change to the human γένος, nor removed freedom of choice, προαίρεσις, from our post-lapsarian condition. This does not mean that the Antiochenes do not take the story of the Fall seriously, but that, as Richard Norris suggests, the story of Adam is not for them the logical starting point of the doctrine of humanity but rather the explicandum that provides the hermeneutical key for the implications of that doctrine and of human history, because for all three writers under consideration—and for most of the Greek East, one may add—“it is inconceivable that the divine purpose in creation should be frustrated by the sin of man.” [3] (Bold emphasis mine)
In fact, as Kalantzis continues, Greek Patristic figures such as Chrysostom and Theodore believed that Adam was created mortal:
It seems that both Chrysostom and Theodore assert that mortality was not only the original state of our creation, but that it was even good for us. God created humanity mortal because “God knew that mortality is an advantage for men. For if they remain without death, they will fall everlastingly. Also, it was because it is well for such creatures if, when the body is dissolved in death, the body of sin should be done away together with it.”

In God’s goodness and φιλανθρωπία God made us mortal so that we may be able to escape the tragedy of Eden and participate in the new life, now without end, inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection, to which we become κοινωνοί through our baptism (Rom 6:3): “Or do you not know that baptism makes us partakers of the death of Christ? And as we believe that by being baptized we are buried with him (in the way that is appropriate for us), we also believe that like the Lord who came into a different, new life (εἰς ἑτέραν καινήν τινα κατέστη ζωήν) having risen from the dead, [those who have been baptized] are in the same new life after baptism, being mindful to live in a manner that proves to be worthy of the life into which we believe they have been born through baptism.” [4] (Bold emphasis mine)
This does not mean that the Orthodox faith tradition universally accepts evolution or at the very least deny monogenism. That is definitely not the case. However, the Orthodox position is one which is certainly less susceptible to evolution than the Reformed / Evangelical, a point that Christos Yannaras makes:
The call of God, which establishes the personal hypostasis of man, is not altered or changed according to the integrity of the psychosomatic functions. Nor is it influenced by the scientific interpretations of the progress or evolution of this integrity. The intervention of God’s call constitutes man and therefore the Church is not upset nor is her truth under attack, if science accepts the “evolution of the species” and it is proved that man is descended biologically from the ape. Man’s difference from the ape is not founded on quantitative differentiation of the completeness of the psychosomatic functions, but in the qualitative differentiation, in the fact that man “administers” with his psychosomatic functions—whether he admits it or not—his existential response to the invitation to life which God directs to him. The biblical image of the formation of man by God and the breathing of the divine breath into the human person shows, however, not the biological creation, but certainly the beginning of personal self-consciousness and identity and freedom and self-control. If this beginning is joined to the biological appearance of the human species or if it is interjected in some link of consecutive evolution of the species, the truth of the biblical and ecclesial anthropology will not change. [5] (Bold emphasis mine)

As I have noted earlier, this is not a review, but rather an exercise in appraising beforehand whether TE:SPTC is likely to be an authoritative, representative critique of theistic evolution, or a narrow sectarian book written to defend its particular credal position. The fact the authors of the theology section are drawn exclusively from the Reformed / Evangelical tradition alone is enough to make the former position unlikely. Certainly, the absence of Orthodox and Catholic voices, given their different views on Original Sin, the doctrine which drives most of the theological opposition to evolution, is a fundamental weakness in the book.

To be continued


1. The Westminster Confession of Faith (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).
2. Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.; Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 102.
3. George Kalantzis, “‘The Voice So Dear to Me’ Themes from Romans in Theodore, Chrysostom, and Theodoret,” in Greek Patristic and Eastern Orthodox Interpretations of Romans (ed. Daniel Patte and Vasile Mihoc; vol. 9; Romans through History and Cultures; London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013), 86.
4. ibid, p  89.
5. Christos Yannaras, Elements of Faith: An Introduction to Orthodox Theology (trans. Keith Schram; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2006), 65.