Anyone involved in a debate knows that definitions are important. In a debate, controlling the definitions of terms allows control of the debate’s framework and frequently determines the winner.
This lesson was on my mind when I heard about a conversation a colleague had with an evolutionist who served as a college professor in a nearby town. He is a theistic evolutionist. He believes in God and confesses faith in Christ, but believes the evidence for evolution is compelling and has been critical of Intelligent Design (at AiG, we are clear that God is the Intelligent Designer). That was why he surprised my colleague when he insisted that he too was a creationist. He even wanted my creationist colleague to agree with him that they both believed God was the creator, and therefore were both creationists.
My colleague wouldn’t do it, noticing immediately that the professor was trying to reinterpret the words creation and creationist for his purpose. He was wrangling about words, “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14, NASB).
My colleague accepted that the professor was a Christian based on his confession of faith in Christ and belief in Christ’s substitutionary atonement and bodily Resurrection.1 That made him a Christian, but there was no meaningful sense of the word creationist that applied. How can someone who believes in the big bang, millions of years, common ancestry for all life on earth, origin of all species through random mutation and natural selection, the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors—essentially everything that evolutionists believe—be called a creationist?
The only difference he had to an atheistic evolutionist would be that somehow God initiated the process. Such a view is vastly different from a biblical creationist view that God created all things by the power of his word in six literal days roughly 6,000 years ago, directly made Adam and Eve on Day Six, and made plants on Day Three before the sun was made on Day Four. Bear in mind, this is all too easy for an all-powerful God.
Some Christians who accept nearly all standard evolutionary points now prefer the term evolutionary creation in contrast to theistic evolution. While at first glance the difference between them may seem quite trivial and nebulous, the distinction is quite stark. Which is more accurate?
Theistic evolution uses evolution as the noun and theistic as the adjective which modifies the noun. This puts the emphasis on evolution and the adjective (theistic) describing the type of evolution (theistic vs. atheistic evolution for example). However, evolutionary creationists use creationist as the noun and evolutionary as the adjective which modifies the noun. This puts the emphasis on creationist and the adjective (evolutionary) describing the type of creationist.2 Again, while this appears to be a trivial distinction, an understanding of the subtle grammatical difference underscores the significance.
To illustrate the problem, we can compare and contrast three individuals: Bill Nye, Francis Collins,3 and Ken Ham.
Bill Nye is an atheist who believes in molecules-to-man evolution, the big bang, millions of years, and common ancestry, and who rejects young earth creation, Noah’s Flood, and intelligent design. He fully embraces evolutionary theory and believes God had nothing to do with it because he rejects the notion that God exists.4
Francis Collins is a well-known scientist who professes to be a Christian. He also believes in molecules-to-man evolution, the big bang, millions of years, and common ancestry, and he rejects young earth creation, Noah’s Flood, and has been critical of intelligent design. He fully embraces evolution and argues that the evidence for molecules-to-man evolution is compelling—even though we cannot observe or repeat evolution!
Ken Ham is a Bible-believing Christian who believes God created all things by the power of his word in six days. He rejects molecules-to-man evolution, the big bang, millions of years, and common ancestry. He believes in young earth creation, Noah’s Flood, and Adam and Eve. He rejects evolution in favor of a biblical creation view.
Clearly, Bill Nye is an evolutionist, and Ken Ham is a creationist—with two opposing religions. But what is the best way to describe the view of Francis Collins? Does he have more in common with Ken Ham because they both believe in God? If so, that would make Collins more like a creationist. Or does he have more in common with Bill Nye because they both have essentially the same view on evolution? If so, that would make him more like the evolutionist. Is the greater contrast between evolutionary creation and young earth creation or between theistic and atheistic evolution?
Is the greater contrast between evolutionary creation and young earth creation or between theistic and atheistic evolution?
I would argue that the former is more different because the only difference between the origin views of Bill Nye and Francis Collins is their belief in God or lack thereof. In contrast, the only thing Francis Collins and Ken Ham have in common, as far as origins are concerned, is the belief that God played some kind of role in the origin of the universe and life.
To further demonstrate this, if we use one unmodified word to describe the origins view of Francis Collins would it be creationist or evolutionist? In his book, The Language of God, Francis Collins acknowledged the problem of using the term creationist as in the broadest sense this would include everyone that believed in a creator God—even deists!5 It would also include Muslims, Hindus, so on. Ironically, Collins argued that theistic evolution was the “most scientifically consistent and spiritually satisfying” view. Nevertheless, evolution violates the Law of Biogenesis, big bang (astronomical evolution), is inconsistent with laws of thermodynamics, and is unobservable and not repeatable.
After describing theistic evolution, however, he explained that he didn’t like the term and proposed that BioLogos be used instead.6 It was exactly the same view; he was simply trying to find an alternative term to describe it. Thus, their use of evolutionary creation is mere opinion and arbitrary.
While a continuum of origins views exists, evolutionist and creationist are rightly recognized as opposite extremes of that continuum. In a sense, evolutionary creationist is analogous to a married bachelor. A bachelor can become married, just like an evolutionist can become a creationist. However, it is not possible to be both at the same time.
The evolutionary worldview has several components (cosmological evolution, geological evolution, and biological evolution) The biological component can be separated into the origin of life (also called chemical evolution), origin of species (common ancestry), and the origin of man. In spite of the wide range of views that exist, evolutionists and creationists answer these questions in vastly different ways.
Consider the converse. Ken Ham believes in change [evolution also simply means “change”]—after all, he believes that poodles are descended from wolves, but are still part of the dog kind. . To go from majestic canine to mutant mutt was an obvious change. Would Biologos be content to call Ken Ham an evolutionary creationist too? Would they promote that evolutionary creationists also believe in an age of the earth about 6,000 years ago?
Another way to understand the depth of “evolutionary creation vs. theistic evolution” is to look at what Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”
What is the apparent objective of organizations like BioLogos or individuals who want to be called evolutionary creationists? Are they focusing on evolutionists who are atheists, trying to get them to become theists and come to faith in Christ? Or do they target members of the Christian community and the objective to promote evolution to Christians?7 Is use of the term evolutionary creationist meant to persuade atheists to accept them because they believe in evolution?
Or is the term used to confuse and persuade Christians to adopt an evolutionary perspective?8 Is the American Association for the Advancement of Science funding scientists to speak at Christian seminaries for the purpose of increasing understanding of science or to promote evolution to a Christian audience? To minimize confusion, instead of evolutionary creation, creationists should use theistic evolution to describe the belief that God used evolution to create.
But let’s not miss the elephant in the room. Atheistic evolutionists are not Christians. They hold to the religion of atheism, which is based in naturalism (nature is all that exists; i.e., no God) and humanism (man is the supreme authority, not God). Their naturalistic origins account is a pagan view (e.g., rehashed view of Epicureanism).
Biologos and other theistic evolutionary groups have done something that many fail to realize—they are mixing Christianity with another religion.
Creationists have another religion (biblical Christianity). Biologos and other theistic evolutionary groups have done something that many fail to realize—they are mixing Christianity with another religion (e.g. paganism and atheism). In religious and philosophical terminology, they are practicing syncretism—whether they claim the title of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation.
Just as when Old Testament Israelites mixed their religion with the Baal worship of the day, that was syncretism, so when people mix their Christianity with paganistic origins like evolution, that is also syncretism. Theistic evolution is really just another form of syncretism.
God judged the Israelites repeatedly for doing this. Today we should still be watchful for false teaching within the church (Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 2:1–3), always comparing Scripture with Scripture, not man’s word. The church needs to return to the clear teachings in the Bible from the very first verse.
As noted at the beginning of the article, terms and definitions are extremely important. Origins issues and debates have frequently been difficult because of the confusing meaning of terms (including what is even meant by evolution)! To avoid further confusion, creationists should continue to use theistic evolution instead of the more recent evolutionary creation.