Theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creation) is gaining influence in evangelical circles, and many are concerned. But is it the real problem?
Theistic evolutionists generally are professing Christians; many are even professing evangelicals.1 They believe that God created the original matter that exploded in the “big bang” about 13.8 billion years ago. In their view, he built into that original matter the laws of nature that scientists have discovered. By natural processes, that matter evolved into stars, galaxies, planets, and the first living cell. Over the last 3.5 billion years, that first cell has evolved by natural selection and mutations into all the plants, animals, and people that have ever lived, including you and me. Most theistic evolutionists hold that either Adam and Eve were myths or, if historical, they evolved from some apelike creature over millions of years.
This view is heavily promoted in the USA in churches, seminaries, and Christian colleges and by the BioLogos Forum, famous geneticist Francis Collins, well-known pastor Tim Keller, and Old Testament scholars Bruce Waltke and John Walton. In the UK, it is promoted by the Faraday Institute at Cambridge University, prominent scientists Denis Alexander and Tom McLeish, and well-known theologian Alister McGrath. Furthermore, respected evangelical publishers such as Kregel, Baker, Zondervan, and IVPress are producing many books in defense of theistic evolution.
Crossway, on the other hand, published a 962-page response to this view—written by 25 concerned Christian scholars—titled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique (2017). Its 33 chapters helpfully present very strong reasons for rejecting biological (neo-Darwinian) evolution, including human evolution. In a three-minute video to promote the book, coeditor Wayne Grudem lists (based on his two chapters) 12 theistic evolutionist beliefs that are contrary to Scripture.2 I agree with him completely.
Theistic evolution is indeed a problem. But the problem is that any view of creation and the age of the earth that denies some or all of the literal history of Genesis 1–11 significantly undermines the authority of Scripture and the foundation of the gospel.
But the book intentionally ignored the question of the age of the creation for the obvious reason that most of the authors accept as fact the millions or billions of years of geological and cosmological evolution. Grudem stated in his first chapter, “This book does not take a position on that issue, nor do we discuss it at any point in the book.”3 However, I show in my in-depth analysis4 of Grudem’s two chapters in the book that Grudem himself takes an old-earth position5 and one whole chapter by a philosopher6 does too.
Theistic evolution is indeed a problem. But the problem is that any view of creation and the age of the earth that denies some or all of the literal history of Genesis 1–11 significantly undermines the authority of Scripture and the foundation of the gospel. But that is what all old-earth views7 do. They attempt to harmonize the Bible with the mythological story of millions of years of geological and cosmological evolution which simply cannot be done without doing serious damage to the truth of Scripture, as I argue in these eight points. Please note: I am arguing against the old-earth views, not attacking the Christians who hold these old-earth views. It is a critique of ideas, not a condemnation of people.
The days of Genesis 1 are clearly literal 24-hour days like our days. Context always determines the meaning of a word in any language. The Hebrew word translated “day” is yom. It is defined literally in 1:5 as one cycle of a dark period (called night) and a light period (called day), just as we define day today. Six times, yom is modified by a number and the refrain about evening and morning, which everywhere else in the Old Testament means a literal day (as context makes clear, as it does also here in Genesis 1). Yom is defined literally in 1:14, where God says he created the sun, moon, and stars so we could measure literal periods of years, seasons, and days.
Also consider that if God created over long ages (e.g., millions or billions of years), he could have indicated that using other Hebrew words instead of yom. He could have used dor (translated as time, period, or generation).8 Or he could have borrowed an Aramaic word such as zeman or iddan (translated as season, time or period).9 Or he could have used phrases such as “after many days,”10 “after some years,”11 “thousands of ten thousand years,”12 or “years of many generations.”13
Finally, consider that Exodus 20:11 is God’s own commentary on Genesis 1 and clearly says he created in six days of exactly the same duration of the days he commanded the Israelites to work before taking a Sabbath rest. I have observed in my reading that most old-earth proponents never comment on God’s testimony in this verse. Some, such as John Lennox and C. John Collins, try to neutralize Exodus 20:11 by saying that God’s work is different from man’s work. But this commandment (20:8–11) is not contrasting man’s work and God’s work, but rather equating man’s week with God’s week of creation.14 Wayne Grudem tries to get around this verse by saying that yom is used non-literally in Exodus 20:12. But 1) yamim (plural of yom used in 20:8–12) always means literal days everywhere else in the Old Testament and 2) it is not yamim that is non-literal (figurative) in 20:12, but rather the verb “may be long” (or “may be prolonged” as in NASB). The verse does not mean that if they keep the Sabbath, the Israelites will have longer days (say, 36-hour days) but that they will have many more (literal) days in the promised land.15 Exodus 20:11 stands as an insurmountable stone wall against any attempt to fit millions of years anywhere into Genesis 1, either in the days, between the days, or before the days, because he says in six days he made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. And since the earth was made in Genesis 1:1, then Exodus 20:11 clearly implies that day one begins in Genesis 1:1, not in 1:3 (as many old-earth proponents believe).
And how long ago were those literal days of creation? Only a little more than 6,000 years have passed since creation week. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 tell us there were only about 2,000 years from Adam to Abraham. Several verses in the Old and New Testaments pinpoint Abraham at about 2000 BC. While theoretically there could be missing names in Genesis 5 and 11 (because the Hebrew word for “begat” or “became the father of” in the Old Testament doesn’t always mean a literal father-son relationship), there can be no missing years because the age of each father is given when the “son” was born. So, for example, it doesn’t matter whether Seth was the son, grandson, or great-grandson of Adam. Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old. So these are unique genealogies. They are the only ones in Scripture or any ancient Near Eastern literature that give such detailed chronological information. They should therefore be called chrono-genealogies. There is no solid biblical basis to say that Adam existed 10,000 or 20,000 years ago, much less several hundred thousand years ago (when evolutionists say Homo sapiens came into existence) after millions of years of animal, earth, and cosmic evolution.16
The idea of millions of years of earth history was developed by deist and atheist geologists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (50 years before Darwin published his theory of evolution). These geologists consciously rejected Genesis and assumed that creatures in the fossil record of the sedimentary rock layers existed long before man was created. But the fossil record is not just a record of death. The fossils also reveal evidence of disease, carnivorous animals, thorns, mass extinction, and creatures being buried alive. So, in any old-earth view, death came before man on a massive scale for millions of years. But in the Bible, man was created before any human or animal death entered the creation.
So, in any old-earth view, death came before man on a massive scale for millions of years.
Six times in Genesis 1, God says the initial creation was good. In verse 31, he looked at all he had made and declared it to be “very good.” Genesis 1:29–30 says that man and all the animals and birds were vegetarian. This implies that the animal and bird kinds (e.g., cats, eagles, alligators, and Tyrannosaurus dinosaurs) that are carnivorous today (or were in the past) were not so in the original creation before the fall.
Then Adam and Eve sinned, and Genesis 3:14–19 records that God physically cursed the serpent who deceived Eve, cursed other animals, cursed the ground (outside the garden of Eden)17 to produce thorns and thistles, and judged Adam and Eve with the sentence of physical death in their future.18 This judgment on the ground was remembered by Lamech 1,100 years later at the birth of his son, Noah (Genesis 5:29). And Lamech’s words confirm that it was the ground that was cursed by the Lord.19
Romans 8:18–25 makes it clear that the whole creation is now subject to futility and is in slavery to corruption.20 It is no surprise that in the history of the church, the almost universal belief is that this enslavement of the whole creation happened in Genesis 3 because of Adam’s sin. Romans 8, along with Acts 3:21, Colossians 1:15–20, and Revelation 21:3–5 and 22:3, makes it clear that in Christ’s past and future redemptive work, the whole creation will be set free from the curse and restored to a deathless state of life and righteousness.
The biblical worldview is Creation—Fall—Redemption—Restoration. In the big bang, billions-of-years story that old-earth creationists of all stripes try to harmonize with Genesis, there is no fall.21 The famous, self-professing agnostic historian of science, Ronald Numbers, understands it well.
For creationists, history is based on the Bible and the belief that God created the world 6,000-10,000 [years] ago. . . . We humans were perfect because we were created in the image of God. And then there was the fall. Death appears and the whole account [in the Bible] becomes one of deterioration and degeneration. So, we then have Jesus in the New Testament, who promises redemption. Evolution completely flips that. With evolution, you don’t start out with anything perfect, you start with primitive little wiggly things, which evolve into apes and, finally, humans. There’s no perfect state from which to fall. This makes the whole plan of salvation silly because there never was a fall. What you have then is a theory of progress from single-celled animals to humans and a very, very different take on history, and not just human history.22
Closely related to the previous point, the character of God revealed in Scripture is totally incompatible with God using millions of years of exploding stars, asteroid impacts, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, ice ages, and tsunamis to create our beautiful and orderly universe and to destroy billions of plants and animals (burying them in thousands of feet of sediment) on the way to creating man. Such a God would be ignorant, unwise, impotent, and evil, and his work could not be called “very good.”
He, the Creator of language, would also be a terrible communicator because if he created in this way, then he couldn’t possibly be more misleading in giving us the account in Genesis 1. Not only is the timescale grossly wrong, but the order of events in Genesis 1 also contradicts the order of events according to evolutionary cosmologists, geologists, and biologists.
God says he created the world to be inhabited by man (Isaiah 45:12, 18). But if millions of years happened, then most of the earth’s existence was before man. God says he created the sun, moon, and stars so man could measure literal days, seasons, and years (Genesis 1:14). But if billions of years happened, then for most of their existence those heavenly bodies did not fulfill their purpose. God also commanded Adam and Eve to rule over all other living creatures (Genesis 1:26–28). But if billions of years happened, then most of those creatures lived and died and many became extinct long before Adam and Eve could ever rule over them. What kind of a God would do and say these things? Not the omniscient, omnipotent, all-wise, good God of Scripture!
The idea of millions of years of history is an assault on the character of God. This alone is reason enough to show why the age of the creation matters. And again, atheists see this more clearly than most Christians. What philosopher David Hull said about biological evolution is equally applicable to cosmological and geological evolution.
The problem that biological evolution poses for natural theologians is the sort of God that a Darwinian version of evolution implies. . . . The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain, and horror. . . . Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history may be like, He is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about His productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the book of Job. The God of the Galápagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.23
The Bible clearly teaches that Noah’s flood was a unique, historical, yearlong, catastrophic, global flood in which all people, land animals, and birds not in the ark—along with lots of sea creatures and plants—were destroyed and the surface of the preflood land radically altered.24 It was not a myth. Nor was it a local flood in the Mesopotamian valley of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Old-earth proponents who reject my first statement must ignore the details of Genesis 6–9 and other relevant verses in the Bible or twist the Scriptures. For most of them, the flood isn’t even on their radar as they advocate for millions of years.
What does the flood have to do with the age of the earth? Simply this: if the flood happened as described in Genesis, it would have caused massive erosion and sedimentation and buried lots of creatures that would later be turned to stone as those sediments dried out and hardened. It could not possibly have happened and left no physical evidence all over the earth. But evolutionary geologists deny that there is any evidence for the global flood, though they believe in a global flood on Mars where there is no liquid water! They are blind to the evidence because of the naturalistic worldview glasses they are wearing (see point 6 below).
So, as this diagram below illustrates, the fossil record in the rock layers of the earth formed either before Adam and Eve were created or after they fell in sin. There is no other place to put that record of death, disease, extinction and other natural evils. If you believe the rock record was formed before Adam and Eve were created, then you are accepting the story of millions of years of earth history. And whether you realize it or not, you are believing that God looked at all of that geological evidence under the grass in the Garden of Eden and called it all “very good.” If, on the other hand, the rock layers with fossils formed after Adam and Eve sinned, then the most logical cause for most of it is Noah’s flood.
So, if you believe in millions of years, you must ignore or reject the global flood. But if you believe what God’s Word says about the yearlong, catastrophic, global flood, then this is another very important reason (besides points 1–3 above) to reject millions of years. You cannot logically believe in both Noah’s flood and millions of years because you can’t really believe in a global flood that leaves no geological evidence. But the secular geologists who insist on millions of years are also dogmatic that there is no geological evidence of a global flood at any time in earth history.
This is why I like to say that Noah’s flood washes away the millions of years. The global flood happened, just as Scripture describes. The millions of years never happened.
Both Jesus and Paul were young-earth creationists. All their references to the early chapters of Genesis reveal that they took those chapters as straightforward, literal history.
In Mark 10, Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees about divorce. Jesus answered (in 10:5–9) by taking them back to Genesis and affirming that God created only two genders (male and female) and that God created marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. And Jesus said this was so “from the beginning of creation.” So in Jesus’ mind, Adam and Eve were back at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning, as evolutionists claim about the origin of the first human beings.25
Likewise, Paul revealed his young-earth creation view in Romans 1:18–20. He said that unrepentant sinners were under the wrath of God as they suppressed the truth about God’s existence, and that at least some of his attributes revealed in the physical world were discernable “since the creation of the world.” Unrepentant sinners are still suppressing the truth revealed through creation. Paul was not simply referring to sinners in his day but was echoing what previous biblical writers had said about creation revealing the Creator (e.g., Job 12:7–10; Psalm 19:1, 97:6; Isaiah 40:21). Adam saw the witness of God in creation, as did Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. This statement only makes sense if Paul believed Adam was made on the sixth literal day of history, not billions of years after the beginning of time (the supposed big bang).
The idea of millions of years was developed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, over 50 years before Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859. Most of the church compromised with millions of years by 1850 and tried to fit that “deep time” into the Bible by the gap theory or day-age view of Genesis 1.26 Through the writings of godless men like James Hutton and Charles Lyell, along with the help of professing Christian geologists who ignored the biblical text, Noah’s flood and the biblical chronology were rejected, and science became controlled by an antibiblical worldview I call “uniformitarian naturalism.” Three simple but powerful philosophical/religious assumptions took control of geology before Darwin went on his five-year voyage around the world starting in 1831. Those assumptions—none of which can be proven by any scientific experiment or research—are the following:
These are, in essence, the assumptions of atheism. From the early nineteenth century, science became controlled by these atheistic, naturalistic assumptions. Not all scientists became atheists, but most scientists began to do their work in geology and all the other physical sciences as if atheism were true.
Darwin applied the same assumptions to biology to develop his theory of biological evolution, and the astronomers did the same in developing their evolutionary theories for the origin of stars, galaxies, planets, the solar system, etc.
Darwin wrote in 1844 about the influence of the old-earth geologist Charles Lyell.
I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell’s brains and that I never acknowledge this sufficiently, nor do I know how I can, without saying so in so many words—for I have always thought that the great merit of the Principles [of Geology], was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind & therefore that when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes.27
So Darwin did not invent the idea of millions of years. If the scientific community had not already been locked into millions of years long before 1859, Darwin’s theory would have been dead in the womb. The real problem is not microbe-to-microbiologist evolution, though it is a problem. Rather, the real problem is the foundational myth of millions of years on which Darwinian evolution rests.
Christians who resist biological evolution but accept the millions of years are not accepting “scientific fact” but are unknowingly compromising with the naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) worldview. This is syncretism, a merging of competing belief systems, similar to what the ancient Israelites fell into as they worshipped Yahweh while also worshipping Baal. All old-earth views are false because they involve (knowing or unknowing) acceptance of naturalistic assumptions.
You cannot with biblical consistency argue against the LGBTQ agenda, adultery, abortion, euthanasia, racism, or critical race theory without the literal, historical truth of Genesis 1–11.
You cannot with biblical consistency argue against the LGBTQ agenda, adultery, abortion, euthanasia, racism, or critical race theory without the literal, historical truth of Genesis 1–11. This is because a biblical position on sex, gender, marriage, the sanctity of life, and racism is rooted in the literal historical truths of Genesis 1–11. There is no hermeneutically consistent way to take as literal history the verses about Adam being made from dust and Eve being made from Adam’s rib but not take as literal the days of creation, fall of Adam and Eve in sin, the global flood, and the chrono-genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, which together teach that the creation is just a little more than 6,000 years old. All those moral teachings in the rest of the Bible that are relevant to the hot-button cultural issues of our day are rooted in the foundational truths of Genesis 1–11. We cannot pick and choose which parts of the Bible we will believe, at least not with hermeneutical consistency and Christian integrity.
And over the last 200 years, but especially the last few decades, it has been the widespread compromise in the church with evolution and/or millions of years that has undermined the moral authority of the Bible within the church and the moral authority of the church in the previously Christian Western cultures of North America, Western Europe, Great Britain, and Australia. As these famous castle diagrams below illustrate, for 200 years the scientific majority and many Christian leaders and scholars have destroyed the foundation of the truth of Christianity. The church needs to rebuild the foundation, not only by rejecting biological and human evolution, but also by rejecting the millions of years and believing all of Genesis 1–11.
In the end, the issue is not biological evolution (though it is contrary to Scripture and to mountains of scientific evidence). Opposing theistic biological evolution while embracing the claim of millions of years of geological and cosmological evolution is not only insufficient, it is grossly inconsistent.
What I said in point 2 above bears repetition. The biblical worldview (i.e., the big picture, metanarrative of Scripture) is Creation—Fall—Redemption—Restoration. In the big bang, billions-of-years story that old-earth creationists of all stripes try to harmonize with Genesis, there is no fall.
All old-earth views deny the original very good creation, the cosmic impact of the fall, and the global flood of Noah’s day.28 All these views impugn the character of God. All these views undermine why Jesus came the first time and what his redemptive work will accomplish at his second coming. Therefore, all old-earth views seriously undermine the coherency of the gospel.
I’m sure that few, if any, Christians who advocate old-earth views are intentionally and knowingly undermining the doctrine of the fall and the character of God, which undermines the gospel. But all the old-earth views do undermine the gospel, precisely because by ignoring or twisting Scripture those views are undermining the authority, reliability, inerrancy, and clarity of Scripture.29
The issue is not Christianity vs science. The issue is the authority of Scripture vs the authority of the consensus view of modern scientists. The issue is whether we will believe the infallible, inerrant Word of our holy God or the fallible opinions and dogmatic claims of sinful men and women who don’t know everything and make mistakes.
And the result of the majority in the church rejecting the plain truth and authority of Genesis 1–11 regarding a six-day creation, the flood, and the age of the creation has been an increasing rejection of the truth and authority of Scripture on many other topics in the once-Christian West. We are witnessing the fruit of that in the moral insanity, wickedness, godlessness, and resistance to the gospel prevalent today.
Christians must abandon all old-earth views and publicly trust and defend the literal history in Genesis 1–11 for the glory of God, the health of the church, and the salvation of sinners.30