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Creation vs. Evolution

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachThe ongoing creation versus evolution debate made the news recently when Ken Hamm, a prominent proponent of young earth creationism, debated Bill Nye, known popularly as “the science guy.” Though lively, I thought the debate was inconclusive.

ham-vs-nye-debateI’m often asked, “Does GCI believe in creation or in evolution?” While I appreciate the question, and mean no disrespect, I believe it’s the wrong question in that it implies that one must choose between the two. Behind this question is often the false assumption that theology and modern science are hopelessly at odds. But GCI’s view is that good theology and good science harmonize. Let me explain.

We uncompromisingly declare that God is the creator of all things and that in his divine freedom, he could have accomplished his creating in any way he chose. We also recognize that God created a universe that allows for scientific investigation. As a result of that investigation, evolution has become the predominant scientific paradigm to account for the diversity of life we observe in the universe.

Though there are many issues concerning the theory of evolution yet to be fully resolved, we can acknowledge that evolutionary processes were involved in the development of life. However, a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life is a much more complex issue and most scientists admit that they do not know how life originated. Creationists tend to seize upon this admission, declaring the theory of evolution to be hopelessly flawed and insisting that God created all things using only supernatural means. But what many people on both sides of the debate often overlook is that God’s supernatural involvement in the creation of the cosmos is outside the realm of scientific inquiry. Whereas science appropriately investigates the natural world, life’s ultimate origin falls in the realm of theology. When these distinctions are respected, there need be no conflict between the two disciplines. When conflict does arise, it tends to be because scientists are making theological claims or theologians are making scientific claims (or both).

Sadly, some Christians fall prey to the false belief that science is the enemy of faith. As a result, they feel they must deny that there has been any evolutionary development of life, insisting that evolutionary theory is in direct conflict with the Bible. Equally sadly, many scientists claim that because nature developed through evolutionary processes, belief in a creator God is wrong. But to believe that God created all things (however he did so), is not foolish or ignorant, and to account for the evidence of science concerning the natural world is not anti-God and anti-Science. Many theologians and scientists (including some of both in our fellowship) see no contradiction between what the Bible reveals about God as creator and what science can legitimately say about the development of life through evolutionary processes.

mapping the origins debateAs we read the creation accounts in Genesis, we understand that the main point being made is that God is the creator of all that is. This fact is much more important than the details of how or when he created. Given that the creation accounts do use poetic literary devices, they may be read in varying ways—including ways that do not conflict with the evidence that God has given us in the natural world. You can look at that evidence and come to your own conclusion. Doing so does not affect the gospel that we preach or the way that we live. Three books that are helpful in sorting this out are Three Views on Creation and Evolution, Four Views on the Historical Adam (both from Zondervan) and Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (from IVP).

Unfortunately, some scientists (like Richard Dawkins, who is part of a group known as the “angry atheists”) make strident claims against faith having little to do with science. If you’d like to understand more about their claims, I recommend two books. One is The Dawkins Delusion? by Alister and Joanna McGrath. It responds to Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. The McGraths are well-placed to refute Dawkins’ claims against faith. Once an atheist himself, Alister earned a doctorate in molecular biophysics before becoming a leading theologian.

Dawkins DelusionIn a review of the McGraths’ book, Michael Ruse, an atheist and a professor of philosophy at Florida State University, wrote this: “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.” Here, from Preaching magazine, are quotes from other reviews:

In their concluding observations, the McGraths ask: “Might The God Delusion actually backfire and end up persuading people that atheism is just as intolerant, doctrinaire and disagreeable as the worst that religion can offer?”

Dawkins seems to think that saying something more loudly and confidently, while ignoring or trivializing counter evidence, will persuade the open-minded that religious belief is a type of delusion. Sadly, sociological studies of charismatic leaders—religious and secular—indicate that Dawkins may be right to place some hope in this strategy. For the gullible and credulous, it is the confidence with which something is said that persuades rather than the evidence offered in its support.

Yet the fact that Dawkins relies so excessively on rhetoric rather than evidence that would otherwise be his natural stock in trade, clearly indicates that something is wrong with his case. Ironically the ultimate achievement of The God Delusion for modern atheism may be to suggest that this emperor has no clothes to wear. Might atheism be a delusion about God?

Devils DelusionAnother book I recommend is The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions by philosopher and mathematician David Berlinski. A reviewer of the book wrote this:

Berlinski takes on the growing crop of smugly swashbuckling non-believers, including the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and teaches them a thing or two: namely, that dismissing religion doesn’t make you sound tough or “scientific.” It makes you sound small-minded and illogical. Believe what you will, argues Berlinski, a Princeton PhD and self-labeled “secular Jew,” don’t act as if atheism is superior to religious belief.

The world needs more believing scientists who can work within their disciplines while maintaining a firm faith in God. We need to teach our young people that it’s not an either/or situation that necessitates either/or decisions. They need to know that there is no need to hold a pre-modern, anti-scientific worldview in order to be faithful, Bible-believing Christians. And they also need to know that the discredited, recycled arguments of the angry atheists need not shape their worldview.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach signature




10 thoughts on “Creation vs. Evolution”

  1. I am so glad that we have come to accept that this is not an either/or issue. I am of the opinion that a wider more inclusive view in no way dishonors or diminishes the greatness of the Creator God, or our Christian credibility. I feel sorry and even embarrased for Dawkins and the so called “New Atheists”. Their belligerent crusade against theism contains the same emotionally charged radical narrow minded fundamentalistic zeal that is sometimes justifiably criticized by the “New Atheists” as being a rather unfortunate Christian extremist distinctive.

  2. I have had many conversations with Atheists concerning this topic. Many have taken up the Dawkin’s mantra “mock them, ridicule them, in public with contempt”…when confronting people of faith. Unfortunately, I have also seen Christians become mean spirited as well. I pray that all will see the light of Christ…believer and non-believer alike.

  3. “But GCI’s view is that good theology and good science harmonize. Let me explain. We uncompromisingly declare that God is the creator of all things and that in his divine freedom, he could have accomplished his creating in any way he chose. We also recognize that God created a universe that allows for scientific investigation. As a result of that investigation, evolution has become the predominant scientific paradigm to account for the diversity of life we observe in the universe.”

    I take from the above quote that Dr. Tkach is saying this, in other words: GCI, as a formal statement about God’s activities in the past, declares that God indeed created everything that exists and used biological evolution as the mechanism to produce the diversity of life in the universe. This means that GCI does not view the first two chapters of Genesis as the way to account for the diversity of observed life. GCI accounts for the diversity of life through a supposed process which Charles Darwin called “Natural Selection.” So it really is either one believes the written down account in the Bible of the things that led to all the different kinds of life that we observe on earth, or one does not take what is written in Genesis 1 and 2 to be written narrative history. One cannot have it both ways.

    What I’d like to know and I have asked this before to denominational representatives, is what was discovered through natural scientific investigation which led denominational leaders to account for the diversity of life on earth in a different manner than what is written in Genesis, namely the special creation of each kind of living thing by God? I’d would love to have that answer so I can look into it myself. We all should respect the fact that none of us were there at the beginning, except God, to observe what really happened. I too will recommend another book by Harvard trained Ph.D Paleontologist Kurt P. Wise called “Faith, Form, and Time: What the Bible Teaches and Science Confirms about Creation and the Age of the Earth.”
    Thank you!

  4. Brian, your comment is appreciated, but here are some related issues to take into consideration:

    1) As the article notes, we do not agree that an “either-or” scenario is necessitated by the Bible and the proven scientific evidence. Genesis 1 & 2, properly exegeted, do not preclude the possibility that God used evolutionary processes in his work of creating. Therefore, we do not agree that a Christian must choose between the Biblical evidence and the scientific evidence related to the development of life. The Bible’s creation accounts and the proven science both support a long-earth rather than a short-earth theory.

    2) Your comment fails to account for the distinction the article makes between micro- and macro-evolution. Micro-evolution is observable and proven, while the science on macro-evolution has serious problems that must be worked out if the theory is to be proven.

    3) It’s important to note (as does the article) that science suffers from mistakes and unreliability just like erroneous interpretations of Scripture. We’ll have more to say about the limitations of science in next week’s Update cover letter.

    4) Dr. Wise, to whom you refer in your comment, concedes that the fossil record does contain numerous examples of transitional series bridging major transitions. He objects to very small species-to-species transitions where (like Gould, his PhD adviser) he says that the fossil record has a more punctuated pattern. Scientists are split on whether such patterns are punctuated or smooth. Dr. Wise is known as a biblical literalist, an approach that we believe causes errors in how one reads and interprets the Bible in general and the creation accounts in particular.

  5. Thank you GCI Update for submitting 1), 2), 3), 4) for all our consideration and I personally have done so. I agree it is right to account for the important distinction between micro and macro evolutionary processes and I have taken it under consideration as well, although, I still cannot find where the distinction was made in the original article. I want to stay as focused as I can in this response so your reply can be as helpful as possible to pastors and teachers within GCI.

    I will try again. With your considerations in mind, I still want to inquire further about your notion of evolution. I remind you that in the original article you affirmed that “evolution has become the predominant scientific paradigm to account for the diversity of life we observe in the universe.” So it seems a definition is in order. When you say “evolution,” if by that you mean micro-evolution (adaptation) within species, then how would that kind of “evolution”, as you say, “account for the diversity of life we observe in the universe”? It obviously can’t in my mind. However, if by “evolution,” you mean macro-evolution, then I can only think that you are referring to a theory which conceives of a mechanism known as “Natural Selection.” Now, you’ve admitted in your considerations that the “science on macro-evolution has serious problems that must be worked out if the theory is to be proven.” Ok then, what “evolution” are you speaking of which accounts for the diversity of life? I think this needs to be established for the readers and the membership of GCI so we can better interact with it. Thank you again.

  6. Thanks again for your comments Brian.

    While it certainly is legitimate for Christians to probe the question regarding the definition of evolution and the related understanding of micro and macro evolution, these are, strictly speaking, scientific questions and not theological ones. The point here is that the church is equipped to authoritatively answer theological questions and we seek to do so on the basis of biblical revelation. We are not authorized on the basis of biblical revelation to answer strictly scientific questions. One such question would concern the mechanisms that were involved in the development of creation.

    The topic of the relationship between Christian theology and contemporary scientific views of evolution is very complex and raises many questions. A short article cannot even attempt to resolve most of them. The original article had a very modest aim—namely to say that, in GCI, theologically sound fellowship does not depend upon members all sharing a single particular view of how, utilizing scientific description, God created things to develop. Members are allowed to have differing views of how, scientifically speaking, God designed creation to function and those differences should not be viewed as a threat to our fellowship under the Word of God.

    The primary reason behind this teaching is that faithful and responsible interpretation of relevant biblical texts and their theological synthesis do not require the affirmation of only one particular scientific description. It is not the central purpose of the biblical texts and their theological meaning to provide scientific description of the mechanisms involved in the origin and development of creation. Rather the purpose of biblical revelation is theological, that is, to tell us about the most fundamental and personal aspects of God’s relationship to creation and creation’s relationship to God.

    Such a theological description primarily rules out certain philosophical claims about God, creation and their relationship. The implications of a biblical theology of creation are first of all spiritual and moral. Atheism, polytheism, dualism, deism, mysticism, magic or superstition are, for instance, all ruled out. Philosophical claims of these sorts, even if made by scientists, are incompatible with biblical revelation. On that we should be of one mind.

    But the meaning and message of biblical revelation does not require adherence to any one particular strictly scientific understanding of the mechanisms involved in the development of creation since no passage of Scripture is designed to establish such an understanding. Indeed it would be anachronistic to think that a biblical writer could have had such a modern scientific question in mind.

    So then individual members of a church who want to come to some conclusion regarding the best scientific description of the mechanisms of creation must do so on the basis of the evidence and arguments given by the best science available. The church, as the church, relying on biblical revelation, has nothing binding to say on the topic since scientific description is not its central concern. It will, however, have much to say in regard to philosophical or religious/spiritual claims that are indeed contradictory to biblical revelation, even when made by scientists, and especially philosophers of science.

    There is, then, no conflict or war between the church and true (and so limited) scientific investigation because they each make categorically different claims. Biblical revelation lays a much deeper foundation for forming a view of creation than scientific description could ever provide. That theological foundation includes the acknowledgement that God could use many methods or means to providentially maintain, oversee and interact with the creation he made for his own purposes. And given the central purpose of biblical revelation and the corresponding absence of information designed to specify those exact mechanisms God uses, the church does not (or should not) make normative and detailed claims regarding such mechanisms.

    The church does not leave open the question of how exactly God providentially oversees creation because of any scientific claims currently being made or because it fears some kind of conflict would arise if it attempted to answer the question or that if it entered into a conflict it might lose the debate. It leaves the question open because its foundation in biblical revelation doesn’t establish a normative conclusion about such strictly scientific questions.

    Now because we are aware of the various competing scientific claims/theories and indeed are aware of the limits of science itself, we acknowledge that a consideration of scientific evidence and the various theories that attempt to account for the evidence also leaves open the question of the exact nature of the mechanisms involved in creation. So although as a matter of descriptive fact there is wide consensus in the scientific community as to the adequacy of evolutionary mechanisms to account for the diversity of biological life from a very few number of body plans, it by no means can explain exactly how it all works. Many questions are left unanswered for now within the theory of evolution. And so science goes on. As C.S. Lewis warned, this is one reason we should never depend upon scientific theory to validate our faith.

    As an aside, outside the sphere of authoritative church responsibility, and as non-experts, we venture to offer an observation on the current state of the science. As far as we are aware, the neo-Darwinian explanation of natural selection as the final explanation has been all but totally discarded by the scientific community. However, it seems it has been abandoned because much more complex mechanisms working at the microbiological level seem to offer far superior explanations. So, it seems the larger evolutionary theory is now being upheld by a different set mechanisms. But we can expect there to be a continuing “evolution” of understanding how these and other as yet unrecognized mechanisms work that will involve significant wrestling within the scientific community itself.

    So this dynamic within the scientific community provides another reason that those who share genuine Christian faith may still differ on their convictions about competing scientific theories/explanations of how creation works. Indeed some Christians may not form a firm conviction one way or the other on this scientific matter. The current state of science and its inherent limits are then a secondary and subordinate reason for the exercise of charity within a Christian fellowship.

    Of course Christians are free to enter into the scientific discussions and to come to a conclusion as to what current theory they regard as best or whether no current explanation is adequate. But the person of faith should not expect biblical revelation to give them a particular advantage in the scientific debates or expect it to provide a key that settles all scientific questions.

    While some faithful Christians may indeed regard one scientific description as being more logically consistent with established theological assumptions than another, the long chain of logic required to argue to that point (undercutting any necessary conclusion) plus the lack of direct biblical teaching and interest in the issue, means that such conclusions should not serve as a test for fellowship or as a measure of faithfulness in the church. Consequently, Christians should not look to any church body for any definitive guidance on matters that are strictly ones of scientific description of mechanism, but rather look to biblical revelation and church leadership for guidance on the more foundational and personal matters of faith in the providence of the Triune God and practice of faithful Christian living in right relationship with God and neighbor, including scientists and fellow Christians with whom we differ on this issue.

  7. Through reading Francis Collins’ material and studying genetics, I have become convinced that evolution was a tool that God used to proliferate and enhance biological species. I also feel that evolution was teleological, through God’s intervention, and not random. This latter point places me outside the boundaries of how many would formulate theistic evolution.

    But accepting evolution does create a nettlesome problem in interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis. I see these chapters as parable or allegory. I see Adam as the symbolic representative of all mankind. He may also have been a literal, individual human being. In which case, he lived during the Neolithic and was of haplogroup J like his descendants. Which means he was not the literal father of all mankind but the symbolic or spiritual father of all mankind. Like the Good Samaritan in the parable is a symbolic representative of a certain attitude among men.

    But this also means that the people in the table of nations in Genesis 10 are likely the literal Adam’s descendants and are also within the haplogroup J fold.
    And this is what scientific investigation supports. The ancient Phoenicians were Canaanites and it has been long asserted in Christian tradition that since they were Hamitic they were Blacks. The National Geographic society examined ancient Phoenician DNA and discovered the Phoenicians to be haplogroup J like the Jews and are directly connected to the modern Lebanese who are also haplogroup J. Working backwards, this means that Ham, Shem and Japheth were all haplogroup J, genetically indistinguishable and classical middle easterners.

    The problem arises when you approach a Christian who has been stewed in the traditional beliefs and tell him that he is not descended from Adam but some hominid sub-clade. The fact is, if you accept a form of theistic evolution, the interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis must be extensively revised.

  8. Thank you David and GCI Update for your informed contributions. I agree with David’s last paragraph,

    “The problem arises when you approach a Christian who has been stewed in the traditional beliefs and tell him that he is not descended from Adam but some hominid sub-clade. The fact is, if you accept a form of theistic evolution, the interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis must be extensively revised.”

    Yes, try telling the Apostle Paul one day that actually he was not a decedent of a literal person in history called “Adam” and see how he reacts. I think he was pretty sure Adam was not a symbol. And you’re right David, if you align with GCI’s declaration in the third paragraph of the original article, you will have to read the first two chapters of Genesis, simply put, as referring to something else other than what they plainly and literally say. That is all well and good except the question arises when do you stop reading that way in Genesis? When does the metaphorical writing stop and historical writing begin and how do you choose one or the other without being arbitrary? There is trouble ahead it seems.

    It remains my view that claiming, as GCI does, that a theory of evolution is what accounts for the diversity of life is just a way to accommodate a certain group of people in today’s society and, in fact, it replaces one set of perceived problems with another set of real problems even bigger than the first. And for what? A theory like evolution, which at the “micro” level, cannot explain the diversity of life in the universe and at the “macro” level, as Dr. Tkach asserted, the “science on macro-evolution has serious problems that must be worked out if the theory is to be proven.”

    The above quote brings me to my next point. In its recent response to me the GCI Update said, “We [presumably the denomination of GCI] are not authorized on the basis of biblical revelation to answer strictly scientific questions. One such question would concern the mechanisms that were involved in the development of creation.” This is stunning to me. Why? Because Dr. Tkach already affirmed, without evidence and argumentation, that the “mechanisms” which best account for the development of creation were “evolutionary” in their character. (See third paragraph of original article) Now, with due respect, I presume this was not an authoritative claim made on the basis of biblical revelation right? Moreover, when he says, “science on macro-evolution has serious problems that must be worked out if the theory is to be proven,” how can he say this authoritatively on the basis of biblical revelation? See what I mean? These are not biblical or theological statements. So I must respectfully point this out and forgive me if I am pushing back strenuously. We should agree Christianity has something to say about the way things really are; No need to compartmentalize.

    Finally, if GCI as a denomination wants to stand behind an evolutionary process to account for the diversity of life in the universe, then it is not unreasonable or out of bounds, as it were, for people to expect the representative who holds the view to explain, as best they can, the nature of this evolutionary process and the evidence discovered through scientific investigation which would give rational people reason to believe that it is the true paradigm for the development of life. If there are many new and improved evolutionary mechanisms out there which gain the trust of GCI, why does not GCI also consider God speaking (actually speaking, not metaphorically speaking) each living kind of thing into existence intact, and special, as another viable mechanism to account for the diversity of life? “God spoke” as an actual mechanism leading to the diversity of life we observe is not even an option for consideration in the original article. I respectfully think this is a shame.

    Thank you again David and GCI Update.

  9. Brian, in response to your latest comment, the clarification that you seek is a matter of *scientific*, not *theological* judgment. Since the church does not attempt to exercise scientific authority, we take no official stance on defining the exact nature of evolution, which would include specifying its particular mechanisms as related to macro or micro forms of evolution.

    So we, as a church, take no official position on this question and, therefore, we don’t require that our members take a certain position on such scientific questions. GCI members can sort through the alternatives and weight up the scientific arguments as best they can, or they can take no position at all on the scientific question.

    Theologically speaking, the church’s position is that any understanding of how creation develops that does not deny that God is ultimately responsible for giving existence to the universe, nor denies that God providentially oversees it from beginning to end, nor denies that God can intervene if and when and how he pleases (especially including by means of the Incarnation of the Son of God), poses no threat to Christian faith and integrity.

    Any strictly and properly *scientific* theory of anything, including the development of creation, will not, in principle, violate these theological foundations and such theories will not, in principle, have anything authoritatively to say to the church from within the discipline of science. Claims that happen to be made by scientists that do deny these theological foundations are to be rejected not because they represent bad science (they may or may not be scientifically valid) but because they are not scientific claims. They represent philosophical/religious/theological claims that are outside the bounds of scientific authority and so have no strictly and properly scientific basis whatsoever. And that point concerning boundaries, is one that the church has responsibility to remind everyone about–including reminding the scientific community.

  10. We’ll now bring the discussion on this article to a close. For additional information, see next week’s Update cover letter, Can We Trust Science? If you’d like to read more from GCI on these subjects, we encourage you to read the many articles on science, evolution, creation, etc. that are posted on GCI’s website at http://www.gci.org. Such articles can easily be located on that website by entering a key word in the search bar at the top right corner of the home page.

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