Book Review – Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

Creation and evolution are not subjects I often read books on. Oftentimes it seems to me that both sides come to the argument with irreconcilable presuppositions and therefore end up talking past each other. However, since I read Francis Collins’ "The Language of God", which puts forth a case for theistic evolution (or "biologos" as he prefers to term it), I have been on the lookout for an appropriate book presenting the "other side" of the argument (see Prov 18:17). So this present volume piqued my interest, particularly since it brings a British perspective to what is often thought of as a particularly American controversy.

The book is made up of a collection of essays, many of which seek to respond to the arguments set forth by Denis Alexander, author of "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose". Interestingly the debate does not revolve around Genesis 1, with the familiar discussions of whether a "day" is 24 hours or a long period of time. Rather, the focus is on the historicity of Adam and Eve. Several contributors seek to demonstrate that the Bible not only presents them as historical characters, but relies on it to develop crucial doctrine.

And this is probably the major achievement of the book. It demonstrates that a denial of the historicity of Adam and Eve (or at least a denial that they are the ancestors of all human beings) results in some grave theological difficulties further along the line. These include making a nonsense of much of Paul’s teaching about Adam, and coming dangerously close to Gnosticism and Deism.

It is not until towards the end of the book that some scientifically focused essays are presented. This is no accident. For most (if not all) of the contributors, the bottom line is what the Bible teaches. They reject the notion that science should be given primacy over and above God’s written revelation. However, the essays on science seek to demonstrate several ways in which the scientific evidence bears more than one possible interpretation, and is not nearly so conclusive as is often suggested.

A couple of the scientific essays went a little over my head, as they dealt with some fairly complex biology. One key idea is that what was once thought of as "junk" in DNA, looks increasingly like it may actually be functional. In another essay, the statistical improbability of an amino acid forming in a primeval soup was well explained.

If I were to criticise this book, it would be along the lines that it would appear that not all the essays were originally written to be part of this book and hence there is a bit of overlap in arguments. Also the tone is forthright, and occasionally strident, meaning that it is likely to provoke a strong response from the opposite side of the argument.

Of course, to believe in creationism is to accept being branded a fool. R. T. Kendall’s essay offers the suggestion that this is true of some biblical doctrine or other in every age. In conclusion then, there is much food for thought here, and it should caution us against enthusiastically rushing to embrace evolution just because we fear looking stupid. I do have to agree with them that theistic evolution often ends up requiring super-human feats of hermeneutical gymnastics if it is to stand any chance of harmonising with the rest of Scripture.

The Word of God is unchanging, but scientific consensus slowly (and sometimes dramatically) shifts over time. I think that we should not be afraid to ask sceptical questions of evolution – there are still several very large leaps of faith required for those who hold to this theory.

Undoubtedly this book is not the final word on the subject, but it does make me wonder whether a simple faith in the historicity of Adam and Eve and their fall may end up turning out not to be so dumb after all.

15 thoughts on “Book Review – Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

  1. I enjoyed this on (especially the Reeves chapter on Adam & Eve – reminded me of Schaeffer in his Genesis of Space and Time) – it’s certainly confident which may be problematic for some, but it’s thought-provoking and that’s helpful.

  2. yes, I thought Reeves’ essay was particularly strong (he was the decisive factor in me choosing to get this book).

  3. Hi Mark,

    I guess I’m curious what form of argument opposing a historical Adam they take on. As long as one still holds to a fall then I don’t think that believing in evolution creates major hermeneutical difficulties. I blogged
    about why I don’t think that not believing in a historical Adam is a problem. In Romans 5, for example, Paul is making an analogy, when making the Jesus/Adam comparison. That analogy doesn’t break down if Adam is just a character in the story. This is especially the case if you still believe in some sort of historical fall as I do. Do they address this approach or an approach that denies any historical fall whatsoever.

  4. Hi Marcus, I’ll have a read of your blog. I’ll respond with a few brief quotes from Reeves, who was responding to Alexander, who does believe in a historical fall I think, but not the fall of a couple who we are all descended from.

    p44 “The genealogies of Gen 5, 1 Chron 1 and Luke 3 all find their first parent in Adam, and while biblical genealogies do sometimes omit names for various reasons, they are not known to add in fictional or mythological figures.”
    p44 “Paul’s argument [in 1 Cor 11:8-9 and 1 Tim 2:11-14] would collapse into nonsense if he meant that Adam and Eve were mythological symbols of the timeless truth that men pre-exist women.”
    He argues that headship must have an ontological basis – we really are in Adam, and we really are in Christ: “if Adam was not in physical reality the father of all, he could not have been head of all” p54

    Greg Haslam’s essay focuses on Rom 5:12-21, arguing that Adam’s “federal headship” is crucial to Paul’s point.

  5. Thanks for the response Mark, I guess I’m even comfortable saying that Paul believed Adam and Eve were actual people (as all Jews did at that time) and hence his argument isn’t nonsensical, just culturally bound. But I understand that most evangelicals aren’t comfortable with that stance.

    The genealogies in general are difficult, and I’m not so sure that the genealogies of Genesis 5 are historical. Our only attestation to most of those individuals is Genesis 5 so we can’t affirm much either way on that one. In terms of form it looks much like the Sumerian King’s lists, so it wouldn’t shock me to find that it’s not all that historical. Subsequent writers then would have dealt with a list that they believed to be historical but turned out wasn’t.

    This, of course sounds very liberal, I know, but I don’t think it forces us to a low doctrine of Scripture, because I don’t think that the point that God was trying to make in those passages requires historicity to be made. I think that at times, we as Evangelicals get too wrapped up in defending historicity when it isn’t the point of the passage in question. Granted there are plenty of times when it is.

  6. thanks for the link Alan. I’ve watched the presentation. He makes his case very well & very graciously.

  7. @Tom – nothing really. there was a chapter on fossils but it didn’t discuss dinosaurs

  8. thanks David, its always good to hear from an author of a book I’ve reviewed. I’ll have a look round your website.

  9. Hi Mark,
    I found your website via a comment on David Anderson’s site, and would like to compliment you on the depth and breadth of your reviews. Retired from a long IT career, I have been studying theology, evolution, creationism, intelligent design, etc, and have read most of the popular books on these subjects. Like you, I have been writing essays on a variety of related subjects, and am currently 65% through a refutation of Richard Dawkins’ latest book, though a method of publishing has so far eluded me.
    On the particular subject of this thread, the key to understanding as I see it is simply this: what did Jesus believe about Adam? If Jesus believed Adam was an historical figure, then he was. As best as I can understand, Jesus did so believe, thus any further discussion has to be anchored on that issue. I have read both Denis Alexander and Francis Collins on the subject of theistic evolution / evolutionary creationism, and find neither to have presented a coherent case: they simply either ignore significant issues or invent implausible scenarios to fill in the gaps. If you are interested, I could send you my notes, they are rather too long to include in a blog.
    Finally, thanks for your book reviews, you have provided a list of “must reads” for me to pursue.
    God bless your work in His service,
    Bathurst NSW Australia

  10. I’m currently working my way through SCEE. Have you read Alexander’s book which it’s a response to? I have read all the way through that, and I don’t think SCEE really does justice to representing the position that Alexander holds to.

    What I’ve read so far of SCEE is good – but it often isn’t a response to what Alexander thinks, but rather an attempt to portray a position that Alexander does not hold and then destroy that position (which I think is called strawman-ing).

    For instance the tone in the book is that Alexander denies that Adam and Eve were real historical people. Alexander does not do that, he favours ‘model C’ in his book which (on this issue) is “that Adam and Eve were real historical people” (chapter 12 in Alexander’s book).

    Alexander has written a 32 page letter in response to SCEE which (at least in terms of the chapters of SCEE I’ve read so far) is quite compelling. He doesn’t want it posted on the internet though because he feels Evangelicals should not fight in public and doesn’t want it to turn in to a point scoring exercise. I could forward you a copy of the letter if you (or anyone else) would like to see it. My email address is [email protected]

  11. @Wayne, thanks for the kind words
    @Robert, thanks for sending me the article. I’ve still not got round to reading it, but it is always useful to hear an author’s response to the criticism of his work.

  12. Mark, good post. I read Francis Collins like you, and was happy he was onto the right idea. But I need to look more in-depth at the other point of view, and will track down this one.

    On this issue the Rev Charles Kingsley comes to mind, who wrote a letter to Darwin after reading On the Origin of Species, and was quoted in its 2nd edition:

    “All that I have seen of it awes me, both with the heap of facts and the prestige of your name, and also with the clear intuition, that if you be right, I must give up much that I have believed and written…but I have gradually learned to see that it is just as noble a conception of deity to believe that he created primal forms capable of self-development…as to believe that he required a fresh act of intervention to fill the gaps that He himself had made.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *