Right or Wrong in the Creation/Evolution Debate

Responding to John Walton’s desire for charity about his aberrant views with relevant Scripture on false teachers and dealing with errors in the church

by Harry F. Sanders, III on June 1, 2021
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There is a mindset within mainstream Evangelicalism that it doesn’t matter who is right, so long as everyone treats everyone well and that we all agree on essentials. In fact, some people go so far as to argue that when person X and person Y hold contradictory positions on an issue, both positions must be accepted as orthodox, unless they are “essential” issues. This mindset has even crept into the creationist camp, with one recent book arguing that we should “play for a draw” with the old earth compromisers.1 While this would be the easier path for Christians, Jesus does not call his followers to an easy path.

In the creation/evolution debate, only one group can be right. The literal Bible and evolution are fundamentally incompatible, no matter what compromised groups such as BioLogos attempt to argue. It therefore logically follows that if only one answer is right, the others are wrong. Yet Wheaton professor and BioLogos contributor John Walton fails to acknowledge this principle. Regarding a colleague who disagreed, Walton wrote,

Rather than suggest that my colleague was wrong, I would assert that while both positions were logical and sought to be faithful to Scripture, I considered my view to offer a preferable interpretation that enjoyed the support of a preponderance of the evidence. In my mind that did not make his view wrong, only less probable. Consequently, I would not suggest that someone holding his view should be considered unfaithful to the Word, heretical in their conclusions, or un-Christian, and thus excluded from the fellowship of the church. Yet those are exactly the sorts of things that people holding a view like his (though not he himself) would say about me and others who hold views similar to mine. I do not attack them as wrong; yet they don’t hesitate to label me that way. There is a difference between being wrong and holding mutually exclusive possible interpretations.2

Dr. Walton gives a lot away in this section of the paper. He paints himself and his view as being unfairly labeled wrong. And there is a kernel of truth here. Sometimes there can be multiple ways to understand passages that are orthodox. Eschatology is such an example: there are multiple ways of understanding the same eschatological passages, comparing Scripture with Scripture. However, Genesis is different. Walton is drawing a false equivalence because the origins question is never settled among the compromisers by an appeal to the text. Instead, it is almost invariably settled by appealing to something outside the text, usually either science or ancient near eastern literature. Scripture is thus subjected, and we might add subjugated, to outside sources.

The origins question is never settled among the compromisers by an appeal to the text.

It is hardly surprising to see Walton doing this. His Lost World series of books consistently subjects Genesis (and other Old Testament books) to the literature of the ancient near east.3 However, the important thing to note in his argument is his statements about right and wrong. He believes that there is no “right” answer to the origins question, only the most probable one. In other words, the Bible is insufficient to address the origins question. We must instead make decisions on origins based on “preponderance of the evidence.”

“Just the Facts” Approach Not Possible with Marred Creation

What evidence does Walton mean? Consider this statement from a textbook he coauthored: “A second problem is that a Bible-first approach devalues the meaningfulness of creation revelation. It does not treat creation as revelatory for informing our thinking about creation ( e.g., when Christians deny the universe's witness that it is about 13.8 billion years old by imposing an age for creation derived from a particular interpretation of Gen. 1–11.)”4 In other words, we cannot appeal to Scripture to determine the age of the earth; we must appeal to “natural revelation.” The problem is that Scripture is the God-breathed infallible Word of God. It is unmarred by man’s sin. Nature, on the other hand, is not infallible, is subject to man’s fallible interpretation, and is marred by the curse of sin. Nature is thus not equivalent to Scripture.

Walton seems to believe that calling someone wrong is uncharitable:

Discussion can be beneficial for both parties and for those who listen in. But debates among Christians ‘score points’ at the other’s expense and insist on being right while the other is wrong. Does such a view honor the concept of ‘charity in all things?’ I am not sure that it does. We should be slow to accuse another of discarding the authority of Scripture, and therefore denouncing them, just because they interpret Scripture differently than we do.5

Unfortunately, Walton is just wrong Scripturally. Second Peter 1:20 tells us that there is only one correct interpretation of Scripture in context. Some issues can be viewed differently when comparing Scripture with Scripture, but since Walton does not build his case on Scripture, he cannot argue the origins issue is one of these issues. There is a right answer to origins. Since that is the case, it behooves us to determine what it is and then defend it.

Dr. Walton seems to confuse charity with acceptance. He wants his views to be accepted as orthodox under the guise of charity. The problem is that charity does not equal acceptance. Nowhere in Scripture does charity equal simply accepting other people’s views as valid. Instead, we are encouraged to search the Scriptures and be Bereans (John 5:39; Acts 17:10–12). Just because an individual claims to be a Christian does not mean that what they say is orthodox. The New Testament warns frequently that we must be on guard against false teachers and false brethren who come in the guise of Christians (2 Peter 2:1; Galatians 2:4) but teach heresies, so we are to test everything and hang on to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Even well-meaning Christians may be mistaken or unintentionally lead others astray. So, while we may “grant the charity” of accepting a person’s claims of Christianity, if expressed views are opposed to Scripture (and Dr. Walton’s are), the views must be boldly and publicly rejected.

Scripture confirms that it is important for everyone to be convinced of what they believe (Romans 14:5). Further, if those beliefs are correct, then they need to be taught. But there can be no neutrality when it comes to the doctrine taught in Scripture, particularly when it undermines the important salvific doctrines of sin, death, and atonement. Jesus said anyone who was not with him was against him (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23). It is not charitable to allow those who are against Christ to remain so. In fact, doing so demonstrates a lack of charity.

Learning from Mistakes

This same principle applies to those teaching false doctrine. For example, in Acts 18, Apollos was teaching that the Messiah was coming. He had listened to John the Baptist and had embraced John’s message. Aquila and Priscilla took him in and explained that John had been referring to Jesus. In other words, Apollos was preaching an incomplete message. But he accepted correction and eventually preached the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:6). Aquila and Priscilla demonstrated charity. Apollos was simply ignorant and needed correction.

Sometimes, however, false teaching does not come from ignorance, and sometimes there are those who refuse correction when confronted with truth. When this occurs, the charitable response is not to simply accept the unbiblical teaching as orthodox. In Romans 16:17–18, we are told to avoid those causing divisions with contrary doctrine. Paul is explicit: the divisive ones are the ones opposed to what the Bible teaches. When a Christian teacher commits public error, he needs to be directly called out publicly to correct the error as Paul did to Peter (Galatians 2:11–14). Doing otherwise is not charitable because it is against the commands of Scripture. Given that even an old earth scholar failed to find any church father who taught an old earth prior to the late 1600s, the divisive ones are not those teaching a young earth.6

No Excuse for Slippery Understanding of Truth

Dr. Walton is not ignorant of what the Bible teaches. In fact, he claims to have formerly been a “young earth creationist.”7 Therefore, his attempt to argue that there is no right or wrong in origins and that all views claiming theism should be acceptable is not born of ignorance.

Walton does recognize at the end of his article that there are absolute rights and wrongs but then undercuts the claim: “Ultimately, it is true that one view is right and others are wrong, but such absolute vision is not always available.”8 What Walton does not say, or perhaps is unwilling to accept, is that we do have absolute vision on the origins question. The Bible tells us specifically what God did, how he did it, and how long it took—and it is incompatible with any other interpretation out there that invokes an old earth and death before sin. So incompatible, in fact, that it undermines the central theme of Scripture and Christianity itself: the gospel message of Adam’s sin causing death, separation from God, and a groaning creation, all of which only the second Adam can fix. These questions are not up for debate unless you are willing to undermine biblical authority—and ultimately the gospel. The origins question has a right answer, and the Bible tells us exactly what that answer is. God created everything in six literal twenty-four hour days and rested the seventh day roughly six thousand years ago.

Footnotes

  1. James Stroud, Creationism Revisited: 2020 (Plantation, FL” Breezeway Books, 2020) .
  2. John Walton, “On Being Right or Wrong” BioLogos 09/29/2014, https://biologos.org/articles/on-being-right-or-wrong.
  3. Steve Ham, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: A Response” Answers Research Journal 8 (2015): 361–374, https://assets.answersingenesis.org/doc/articles/pdf-versions/arj/v8/lost-world-adam-eve-response.pdf.
  4. Cite understanding scientific theories of origins.
  5. Walton, 2014
  6. John Millam “Coming to Grips with the Early Church Father’s Perspective on Genesis” Reasons to Believe https://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/genesis_days_church_fathers.pdf.
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvV8K9Ne068.
  8. Walton, 2014.

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