What Motivates Christians like N.T. Wright to Accept Evolution?

Wright Considers Young-Earth Creation to Be False Teaching

by on
Share:

Many examples could come to mind when considering false teaching in the church today, but would belief in a young Earth? Well according to New Testament scholar, and former Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, this is what young-earth creationism (YEC) is. In his book Surprised by Scripture, Wright comments,

I wonder whether we are right even to treat the young-earth position as a kind of allowable if regrettable alternative, something we know our cousins down the road get up to but which shouldn’t stop us getting together at Christmas…And if, as I suspect, many of us don’t think of young-earthism as an allowable alternative, is this simply for the pragmatic reason that it makes it hard for us to be Christians because the wider world looks at those folks and thinks we must be like that too? Or is it — as I suggest it ought to be — because we have glimpsed a positive point that urgently needs to be made and that the young-earth literalism is simply screening out? That’s the danger of false teaching: it isn’t just that you’re making a mess; you are using that mess to cover up something that ought to be brought urgently to light.1

Wright doesn’t stop there in his criticism of those to hold to YEC; he states,

. . . if we can study Genesis and human origins without hearing the call to be an image-bearing human being renewed in Jesus, we are massively missing the point, perhaps pursuing our own dream of otherworldly salvation that merely colludes with the forces of evil. That’s what gnosticism always does.2

There we have it. Not only is YEC is “false teaching” (the kind of teaching that should not even be allowed amongst Christians) but those who believe it are apparently gnostics! It is important to note, however, that Wright has his motivations for labelling YEC “false teaching”:

The root problem we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, anti-science, obscurantist, and so forth.3

For Wright, the reason we should abandon YEC (or biblical creation!) is that, as Christians, we do not want to be seen as anti-intellectual. Yet who is it that assumes Christianity to be anti-intellectual? The answer, the secular academy! What Christians face today is a choice between earning the respect of the secular, unbelieving world by accepting evolution, or being faithful to Scripture.

The Respect of the World

What Christians, like Wright, who accept evolution4 need to realise is that theistic evolution is neither biblical orthodoxy, nor does it win the respect of the world (not that the Christian should be looking for the respect of the world)5 nor is it good science, for it is just as scientifically flawed as is atheistic evolution.

Theistic evolutionists . . . seem to be trying to save Christianity from embarrassment in order for the Bible to make sense to those who do not believe.

Theistic evolutionists (like those Christians who reject biological evolution but accept the millions of years) seem to be trying to save Christianity from embarrassment in order for the Bible to make sense to those who do not believe. However, the secular academy is hostile to Christianity precisely because it is controlled by evolutionary, millions-of-years thinking. Belief in supernatural creation stands against a dominant intellectual system that establishes what is called “credibility” in the secular academy. Evangelicals who feel intellectually accountable to the academy then have to come up with another way to understand Genesis, which is what Wright is trying to do.6 Ultimately, Wright’s view of Genesis is not based upon credible exegetical conclusions but is the result of abandoning the authority of Scripture for the praise of the academy.

Moreover, Christians who accept evolution are not only helping to erode belief in a supernatural creation but other vital doctrines of the Christian faith7 and, more importantly, the logical implications of their conclusions seem to be a doorway to atheism. William Provine, late professor of biological sciences at Cornell University, said,

. . . belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.8

Christians should listen to what Dr. Provine is saying; the only religion that is compatible with evolution is atheism! While many may see this as an exaggerated statement, there is truth in the fact that synthesizing evolution with the Bible often leads to unbelief.9 The irony of the theistic evolutionary position is that the first person to differ with it would have been Charles Darwin.10 In Darwin’s understanding of the world there never was a time that it was very good. Randal Keynes (Darwin’s great-great-grandson) wrote in Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution that “After Annie’s death, Charles set the Christian faith firmly behind him.”11 Keynes notes that the death of Darwin’s 11-year-old daughter in 1851 marked a great turning point in Darwin’s life, because Darwin realized somewhere along the line you have to ask the question: What kind of god would deliberately use a process of death, disease, famine, and struggle to make the world, and then declare it to be very good (Genesis 1:31)?12 Toward the end of his life Darwin described himself as an agnostic13 who had long before rejected the Old Testament as revelation from God14 and Jesus as the Son of God.15

Being Faithful to Scripture

Being faithful to Scripture, which is the alternative to accepting the respect of the world, is by no means anti-intellectual since many academics throughout church history as well as in the present day have accepted the biblical account of creation as literal history: the Church Fathers Lactantius and Basil the Bishop of Caesarea, the Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin and John Wesley,16 and more recently men such as Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Dr. Andy McIntosh and Dr. Stuart Burgess, and so on.17

Unfortunately, today the church is facing a crisis because too few of her people and leaders understand the devastating consequences of combining the Bible and evolution. Too many, like Wright, want to go with the cultural flow and be thought of by the secular majority as an enlightened and intelligent person rather than “anti-intellectual.”

In his ministry, however, the Apostle Paul never tried to please people (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4) as evidenced by the mocking he received from the academy of his day (the Greek philosophers in Athens) when he proclaimed the truth of gospel, which was rooted in biblical creation (Acts 17:22–34). This is because Paul understood that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Conclusion

Paul issued a warning to the Corinthian Church:

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Satan’s method of deception with Eve was to get her to question God’s Word (Genesis 3:1). Unfortunately, many scholars and Christian lay people today have had their “minds” corrupted by evolutionary teaching and are falling for this deception and are questioning the authority of God’s Word when it comes to Genesis 1–11. Paul, however, exhorts us to have “the mind” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and “attitude” of Christ (Philippians 2:5). Therefore, as Christians, whatever Jesus’ belief was concerning creation should be what we believe; and He clearly believed that the early chapters of Genesis were historical, accurate, and reliable (Matthew 19:4–6, 23:35, 24:37–39; Luke 17:28–32; John 8:39–41, 56–58)18. Moreover, he believed that Adam and Eve were historical people who were created at the beginning of creation, on Day Six (Mark 10:6).

When it comes to the reliability and truthfulness of the creation account in Genesis, the church today needs to follow the Apostle Paul’s example and bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ rather to that of the secular academy.

Footnotes

  1. N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging with Contemporary Issues (Great Britain: SPCK, 2014), 31.
  2. While Wright doesn’t specifically say he is talking about those who believe in a young Earth, given his previous criticism of this position it is hard not to draw this conclusion. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 39.
  3. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 26.
  4. Wright sees evolution as a “proven hypothesis.” Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 31.
  5. Scripture repeatedly warns Christians against seeking the approval of the world (Luke 6:26; James 4:4; 1 John 4:5).
  6. Wright ultimately wants to read Genesis in a “fresh” way (the language usually used by liberals and progressive Christians), he states: “This is where we turn toward Genesis 1, toward a fresh reading of image and temple.” Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 32.
  7. Wright’s stance on evolution has caused him to reject the historicity of Adam: “what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation. This pair (call them Adam and Eve if you like) were to be representatives of the whole human race, the ones in whom God’s purposes to make the whole world a place of delight and joy and order, eventually colonizing the whole creation, was to be taken forward.” Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 38.
  8. W. B. Provine, “No Free Will,” in Catching Up with the Vision—Essays on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the History of Science Society, Margaret W. Rossiter, ed. (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1999), S123.
  9. This is not to say that every theistic evolutionist will end up being an unbeliever.
  10. In 1831 Darwin graduated from Cambridge University with a bachelor’s degree in theology and so could see the incompatibility of his theory with the biblical account of creation.
  11. Randal Keynes, Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter and Human Evolution (London: Fourth Estate, 2001), 222. Although Darwin is seen to have been a Christian, his life shows that he never really had a Christian faith. His mother was Unitarian and his father and grandfather were essentially atheists. See Dr. Terry Mortenson’s DVD Darwinian Evolution: Religion of Death.
  12. Unfortunately, Wright accepts the evolutionary history of death and struggle before Adam: “This, perhaps, is a way of reading the warning of Genesis 2: in the day you eat of it you too will die. Not that death, the decay and dissolution of plants, animals, and hominids wasn’t a reality already…” Wright, Surprised by Scripture, 38.
  13. Understanding the implications of his evolutionary theory led Charles Darwin to become an agnostic. See Charles Darwin, “Darwin, C. R. to Fordyce, John. 7 May 1879,” Darwin Correspondence Project, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12041.
  14. Darwin’s autobiography states, “Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, (sic) or the beliefs of any barbarian.” Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow (New York: W.W. Norton, 1969), 85.
  15. Darwin replied to a correspondent, “I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.” Charles Darwin, “Darwin, C. R.to McDermott, F. A. 24 Nov 1880,” Darwin Correspondence Project, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12851.
  16. See Chapters 2–3 in Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds., Coming to Grips with Genesis (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008).
  17. For a further list of creation scientists see https://answersingenesis.org/creation-scientists/.
  18. For more, see Terry Mortenson’s article “Jesus, Evangelical Scholars, and the Age of the Earth.”

Newsletter

Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Learn more

  • Customer Service 800.778.3390