How can Genesis 1 be reconciled with theistic evolution?
In dealing with this question, we must carefully define our terms, for “evolution” is used in various senses by various people. We must distinguish between evolution as a philosophy and evolution as a descriptive mechanism for the development of species from the more primitive to the “higher” or more complex stages in the course of geological history. Furthermore, we must establish what is meant by theistic evolution. Then we will be in a better position to deal with its relationship to the creationism of Genesis 1.
Evolution as a Philosophy
Evolution as a philosophy seeks to explain the physical—and especially the biological—universe as a self-directed development from primeval matter, the origin of which is unknown but which may be regarded as eternally existing without ever having had a beginning. Philosophical evolution rules out any direction or intervention by a personal God and casts doubt on the existence of even an impersonal Higher Power. All reality is governed by unchangeable physical laws, and ultimately it is the product of mere chance. There is no reason for existence nor a real purpose for life. Man has to operate as an end in himself. He is his own ultimate lawgiver and has no moral accountability except to human society. The basis of law and ethics is basically utilitarian—that which produces the greatest good for the greatest number.
Not all these positions were advanced by Charles Darwin himself in his 1859 classic The Origin of Species. And yet the consistent atheism of philosophic evolution was a position he would not espouse, for he believed that a creating God was logically necessary to explain the prior existence of the original primordial ooze out of which the earliest forms of life emerged. It would be more accurate to call him a deist rather than an atheist, even though his system was taken over by those who denied the existence of God. But it should be pointed out that consistent atheism, which represents itself to be the most rational and logical of all approaches to reality, is in actuality completely self-defeating and incapable of logical defense. That is to say, if indeed all matter has combined by mere chance, unguided by any Higher Power or Transcendental Intelligence, then it necessarily follows that the molecules of the human brain are also the product of mere chance. In other words, we think the way we do simply because the atoms and molecules of our brain tissue happen to have combined in the way they have, totally without transcendental guidance or control. So then even the philosophies of men, their systems of logic, and all their approaches to reality are the result of mere fortuity. There is no absolute validity to any argument advanced by the atheist against the position of theism.
On the basis of his own presuppositions, the atheist completely cancels himself out, for on his own premises his arguments are without any absolute validity. By his own confession he thinks the way he does simply because because the atoms in his brain happen to combine the way they do. If this is so, he cannot honestly say that his view is any more valid than the contrary view of his opponent. His basic postulates are self-contradictory and self-defeating; for when he asserts that there are no absolutes, he thereby is asserting a very dogmatic absolute. Nor can he logically disprove the existence of God without resorting to a logic that depends on the existence of God for its validity. Apart from such a transcendent guarantor of the validity of logic, any attempts at logic or argumentation are simply manifestations of the behavior of the collocation of molecules that make up the thinker’s brain.
Evolution as a Descriptive Mechanism
Evolution as a descriptive mechanism refers to that process by which less-advanced forms of life develop into higher forms of greater complexity. This is thought to be brought about by some sort of inner dynamic that, without any outside control or interference, operates according to its own pattern. In Darwin’s day it was believed that this development resulted from the accumulation of chance characteristics and the retention of slight variations that arose during the earlier stages of the species’ career and were genetically handed down to succeeding generations.
Since Darwin’s time, however, this formulation of evolution as a mechanistic process, governed by the principle of the “survival of the fittest,” has, for a variety of reasons, lost support in the twentieth century. G.J. Mendel’s experiments in plant genetics demonstrated quite conclusively that the range of variation possible within a species was strictly limited and offered no possibility of development into a new and different species. After a large number of experiments as to the inheritability of acquired characteristics, it was finally determined by geneticists at the close of the century that there was absolutely no transmission of acquired traits because there was no way of coding them into the genes of the parent who developed those traits (cf. Robert E. D. Clark, Darwin, Before and After [Chicago: Moody, 1967]).
As for the continual series of transitional species that the Darwinian theory posited to mark the ascent from “lower” to “higher” orders on the ladder of biological development, the most extensive research possible has finally led scientists to the conclusion that there never were such “missing links.” Thus Austin H. Clark (The New Evolution [New Haven: Yale, 1930], p. 189) confessed: “If we are willing to accept the facts, we must believe that there never were such intermediates, or in other words, that these major groups have from the very first borne the same relationship to each other that they bear today.” Similarly, G. G. Simpson concluded that each of the thirty-two known orders of mammals appeared quite suddenly in the paleontological record. “The earliest and most primitive known members of every order already have the basic ordinal characters, and in no case is an approximately continuous sequence from one order to another known” (Tempo and Mode in Evolution [New York: Columbia, 1944], p. 106).
Therefore, it was necessary for Clark and Simpson to propose a completely non-Darwinian type of “evolution,” which they called the “quantum theory” or “emergent evolution.” It declares that dramatically new forms arise by mere chance, or else by some sort of creative response to new environmental factors. No suggestion was offered as to the origin for this capacity for “creative response.” From the perspective of Darwinianism, this could hardly be considered evolution at all. As Carl F. H. Henry observed: “Supposition of abrupt emergence falls outside the field of scientific analysis just as fully as the appeal to supernatural creative forces” (R. Mixter, ed.,Evolution and Christian Thought Today [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959], p. 211).
As for the developmental series customarily exhibited in textbooks and museums to show how evolution worked with horses and men from the earliest stages of Cenozoic until modern times, it should be understood that they prove absolutely nothing about the mechanism that engineered this development. A continuity of basic design furnishes no evidence whatever that any “lower” species phased into the next “higher” species by any sort of internal dynamic, as evolution demands. For if the museum visitor were to go to another part of that museum of science and industry, he would find a completely analogous series of automobiles, commencing with 1900 and extending up until the present decade. Stage by stage, phase by phase, he could trace the development of the Ford from its earliest Model T prototype to the large and luxurious LTD of the 1970s. Everyone knows that there was a continuity of basic design that altered in definite stages, sometimes with dramatically new features. But he would also be aware that it was the engineers at the Ford Motor Company plants who designed these changes and implemented them through craftsmen who followed their blueprints. The ascent from the eohippus to the modern racing horse can be accounted for in exactly the same way—except that in this case the architect and engineer was the Creator Himself.
Theistic evolution posits the existence of God as Creator of all the material substance of the universe and Designer of all processes to be followed by the various botanical and zoological orders in the development of His master plan. Unlike the philosophical evolutionist, the theistic evolutionist insists that matter was not eternal but was created by God out of nothing and was controlled in its development by the plan He had devised. In other words, the whole mechanism of the evolutionary process was and is devised and controlled by God rather than by some mysterious and unaccountable force for which there is no explanation.
As we weigh the question of whether theistic evolution can be reconciled with Genesis 1, we have to analyze very carefully whether we are dealing with a deistic or semi-deistic concept of a God who simply sets up the entire system, programming it in advance like some master computer, and then retires to the sidelines to watch the cosmic mechanism work itself out. Such a God is beyond the reach of prayer and takes no active, continuing interest in the needs of His creatures. There is no communication with Him and no salvation from Him; all is locked up in the framework of a rigid determinism.
Or else we may be dealing with a theistic evolution that allows for prayer and personal relationships between man and God, but which conceives of Him as bringing about the ascending biological orders by some kind of evolutionary mechanism that finds its dynamism and direction within itself. In view of the flimsy basis in scientific data for evolution as propounded by Darwin and its virtual rejection by “emergent” evolutionists (for these two bear as close a resemblance to each other as American democracy and the “democracy” of Iron Curtain nations today), there seems to be very little ground for even a scientifically minded theist to hang on to evolutionism at all. But if he accepts the implications of the integrity of species according to Mendelian limits, it could perhaps be argued that he keeps faith with the successive stages of creation of plant and animal orders and genera and species “after its kind,” as emphasized in Genesis 1:11–12, 21. If he understands the six creative days as intended by the Author to teach a succession of definite stages in the orderly development of the biological world up until the creation of man, then we should concede that this is reconcilable with the basic intent of that chapter.
All this, of course, depends on whether the theistic evolutionist accepts Adam and Eve as literal, historical, created individuals. Many of them do not, but they conceive of Homo sapiens as gradually developing from subhuman hominids and then finally developing a consciousness of God—at which moment, whenever it was, the ape-man became “Adam.” Such, for example, was the view of Lecomte de Noüy in Human Destiny (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1947), who suggested that perhaps around 30,000 B.C. the Cro-Magnon became truly man by a sort of spiritual mutation that conferred on him the capacity of responsible moral choice. This type of approach can hardly be reconciled with the presentation of Adam and Eve as historical individuals with personal emotions and responses such as appears in Genesis 2 and 3 (and as certified by 1 Tim. 2:13–14). Any suprahistorical interpretation of Adam, such as is espoused by Neoorthodoxy, is definitely irreconcilable with Holy Scripture and the Evangelical faith.
Helpful Discussions of This General Topic
Anderson, J. K., and Coffin, H. G. Fossils in Focus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977. Lammerts, W. E., ed. Why Not Creation? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970. Morris, H. M. The Twilight of Evolution. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1963. Newman, R. C., and Eckelmann, H. J. Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1977. Young, E. J. Studies in Genesis One. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973.
Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Originally published: Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties. 1982. Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (55). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.