Article – What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say
Article – What I Would Like to Hear an Evolutionary Creationist Say
By Todd Charles Wood
November 9th, 2011
***See the companion article: “What I Would Like To Hear A Young-Earth Creationist Say” by Dennis Venema
If the world is supposed to know we are Christians because of our love for each other, then they’d never guess it when we talk about science and evolution. I’ve been involved in this debate for almost my entire adult life, and I’ve seen a lot of disheartening behavior that is anything but loving. As a young person I joined right in on the culture war, but as I’ve matured it seems either the debate has gotten more rancorous or I’ve just grown weary of the fighting. Maybe it’s a little of both. Whatever the reason, I’ve become interested in the past few years in ways of breaking the deadlock between the various factions in the war. The challenge is how to do this?
Then out of the blue, I was invited to contribute something to the Colossian Forum, which I’d never heard of. As I browsed their website, I sympathized with their stated goals, but my battle weariness made me suspicious of them. When they suggested I write an essay on “What I would like to hear a theistic evolutionist say,” I couldn’t resist, because I knew exactly what I wanted to hear. It’s the same thing I want to hear all sides of the debate confess. It’s what I keep telling my students. I suspect it might be the key to breaking the deadlock.
I don’t know.
You see, when I look across the battlefield, there’s one thing I see time and time again: Everyone acts as though their position is the only permissible one. Everyone thinks they’ve got the right theological answers, and everyone thinks they’ve got the right scientific answers. And of course, each side claims that they’ve got the only rational position. But is this really true?
When I read over books and articles written by Christians who accept evolution, I notice two important trends. One trend is the assurance that the scientific debate is settled and certain and more importantly that there is no contradiction between evolution and Christian theology. This trend reflects that desire to have the answers and to put the best arguments forward. The second trend is more subtle, and it’s unlikely to be noticed by reading a single author. Let’s call the second trend theological disparity.
From this outsider’s perspective, it seems like there really is no unified theological position that all evolutionary creationists agree on. In fact, they don’t even agree on what to call themselves. Some prefer the newer “evolutionary creationist,” in order to emphasize their belief in God as a Creator God. Others dislike the connotations of “creationist” and prefer the older term “theistic evolutionist.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Can an evolutionary creationist (or theistic evolutionist, if you prefer) accept a literal Adam and Eve? If so, how? Was there a real fall from some perfect state? If so, how did the fall work? If not, what does it mean for redemption, both in this life and the one to come? Tinkering around with the meaning of redemption then strikes at the core of Christianity. Why did Jesus have to die? What is the meaning of His resurrection?
Now it’s true that there are answers to all these questions. Theistic evolutionists don’t shy away from hard questions, but the key point is that there is no agreed-upon answer to any of them. One person insists that Adam and Eve and a real fall from perfection are not negotiable. Another wants to keep Adam and Eve but is willing to rethink what the origin of sin might be. Another thinks that Adam and Eve can be purely symbolic, but still thinks that the fall is real. Most conservatives in the debate approach the issue of redemption with great care, but there are plenty of others who are quite willing to “reimagine” what Christ’s death and resurrection were all about.
Yet, despite this theological disparity, we are assured that there is no contradiction between Christian theology and evolution. Call me crazy, but don’t you think if evolution and Christianity were so obviously and easily compatible, there might be a bit more unanimity on how that compatibility actually works? Am I expecting too much? Perhaps when people ask if Christian theology is compatible with evolution, the first answer should be, “I don’t know.”
To be fair, what I’ve just written could also be said about young-age creationists and science. If it’s true that evolution is so obviously wrong and all the evidence supports creationism, why is there such a fight within creationism over cosmogony, Flood geology, created kinds, and speciation? Call me crazy, but don’t you think if scientific evidence overwhelmingly supported creationism, there might be a bit more unanimity on these fundamental questions?
As a young age creationist, let me take this opportunity to follow my own advice and publicly express my ignorance. If creationism is true, why can we see starlight from stars millions of light years away? I don’t know. If creationism is true, what does radiometric dating mean? I don’t know. If creationism is true, why do humans and chimpanzees have nearly identical genomes? I don’t know. Just like evolutionary creationists wrestling with theological issues, though, young-age creationists have proposed all sorts of answers to the above questions. Some weren’t very good ideas, but others are quite intriguing. And just like evolutionary approaches to theology, there is no single creationist scientific model that most creationists would accept.
So we don’t know. That’s the real bottom line of this whole debate. If we choose to accept the evolutionary model of origins, it’s not clear how or even whether we can retain a truly Christian theology. If we choose to go with a creationist-type position, then we’re left with a myriad of unanswered scientific questions. Either way we go, we don’t have all the answers. Either way we go, we’re left with intellectual and spiritual tensions.
How can this confession of ignorance ever hope to resolve the deadlock over science and theology? If you’re looking for one side (yours) to prevail over the others, then confessing ignorance is a guarantee of defeat. In an intellectual battle, you’ve got to have answers, right? Admitting that we don’t have answers just makes us look weak. Opponents will never concede that we’re right if can’t answer their questions!
Maybe that’s the point. Recall that the Apostles argued amongst themselves about which was the greatest. Undoubtedly, part of that argument must have entailed which Apostle had the most theologically correct understanding of Jesus’ teachings. What was Jesus’ response? He got up and began washing their feet, just like a slave would do. The time for words was past. In that final, living parable, Christ showed us what it is to be great. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted. To be great, become the slave of all.
When it comes to the origins fight, maybe the key is to follow Christ’s example. Maybe the only way we’ll ever resolve the war is through surrender. Maybe in surrender, we’ll find out what real victory is. Maybe we’ll find that confessing ignorance is the first step towards finding God’s truth. Maybe we’ll discover that asking for wisdom is just what God wanted us to do all along. Most important of all, maybe we’ll find that we can humbly ask for wisdom together, and in doing so, the world really will see something different about us.
Todd Charles Wood is an associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College. In his spare time, he enjoys classic movies, making pie, and traveling with his wife.