Winter 2018

Should Christians Evolve on Evolution?

Did God use evolution to create humanity and all other life from a common ancestor? A growing number of prominent Christian theologians, pastors and scientists have begun answering “yes” in recent years, making the case that theistic evolution offers the best explanation of scientific evidence.

In response, a team of scholars — including influential Biola philosophy professor J.P. Moreland — have teamed up to produce a massive new book, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique (Crossway, November 2017). Over the course of 31 chapters and 1,000 pages, the volume seeks to make a comprehensive case against theistic evolution, articulating why it’s problematic, both scientifically and biblically, to accept the view that God used undetectable evolutionary mechanisms to produce all life. Biola Magazine recently spoke with Moreland, one of the project’s five lead editors, about the ongoing debate. Below is an edited transcript.

J.P., “theistic evolution” is a term that can mean different things to different people. How would you define the view that you’re critiquing in this book?

Let’s begin with evolution. There are three definitions: The first is change within limits. That’s called microevolution and everybody accepts that. The second is called the thesis of common descent, which is that all living things can trace their ancestral history back to an original organism or a small cluster of original organisms. And the third definition is the “blind watchmaker” thesis, which is that all living things and their parts are the result of purely unguided forces that amount to a combination of natural law, pure random-chance mutations and the struggle for reproductive advantage. Our primary focus is on critiquing the third definition, the blind watchmaker thesis, though we do have a critique of the thesis of common descent, especially with four chapters on the origins of Adam and Eve.

Theistic evolution affirms that the general theory of common descent and the blind watchmaker is true, but God in some way or another guided the processes — as long as there is no way to detect that he did it. If you are able to detect God’s activity scientifically, that would be the intelligent design [ID] view. The theistic evolutionist wants to make sure no theology or religion or any idea of God or any of that enters into the methods of science.

If somebody is wrestling with how to reconcile science and Scripture, and finds theistic evolution compelling, which arguments would you encourage them to investigate further?

First, the origin of life is an insurmountable difficulty for the theistic evolutionist. Second, the origin of biological information. Information is a third kind of thing that is basic in the universe and it can’t emerge from random processes and natural law. Third, the Cambrian Explosion. In the Cambrian strata of rock you have all the major phyla of organisms appearing abruptly, and in the fossil record earlier than that you find nothing that’s leading up to it. It’s called the Big Bang of biology. It’s as though God said, “Let there be,” and then all of these life forms just suddenly appear. Fourth, the origin of consciousness is a problem. And then irreducible complexity, where living things have parts that don’t work unless all the other parts are in place; you can’t evolve a structure like that just a little bit at a time.

The main thing that’s sustained both theistic and naturalistic evolution is actually not the scientific evidence — even in Darwin's day. What’s sustained it is methodological naturalism. It’s the idea that while you’re doing science you can only appeal to natural causes and natural explanations for data. You can’t appeal to a divine or a personal action of any kind of being. So science has got to make a purely natural story of cause and effect work, because if they didn’t they would be abandoning science itself. Our book has a huge critique of the concept of methodological naturalism. We show that there are places all over science, in forensic science and in archeology and in other places, where scientists explain data by appealing not to a natural law or a natural cause but the intentional actions of an agent or a person. There’s no reason why this can’t be done in biology if the evidence justifies it.

You authored a chapter with a particularly provocative title: “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity out of the Plausibility Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge.” What’s your main argument in that chapter?

Christians don’t want to look at Scripture or the fundamental tenets of their religion as things that you have to choose to believe. They’ve never been taken as faith objects. Rather they’ve been taken by the church to be things that you can actually know to be true, and people give greater authority to what we think we know than what we merely have to believe. If the Christian religion becomes just a belief system, it will be marginalized from culture and Christians themselves won’t have the courage to share their faith because they’re not at all confident that what they believe is true in the first place.

Theistic evolution communicates that scientists are a far, far more secure source of knowledge of reality than biblical or theological preaching and philosophy. And this is not true. But if we are constantly seeing science force us to revise the Bible so it will be consistent with science, at some point you start saying to yourself, “Well, shoot, in 50 years what else is going to be revised?” By appealing to theistic evolution, we are actually undermining people’s confidence in the Bible rather than giving them a way to integrate science and Scripture. It is the cure that killed the patient, because that way of integrating always means that science gets to tell us what’s real, and it’s the theologian who has to scramble and dive for foxholes and wave the white flag of surrender and ask the scientists what he can say Genesis teaches.

Many proponents of theistic evolution would describe themselves as having a high view of Scripture. For them, the debate isn’t about Scripture’s authority or accuracy; it’s about understanding what Scripture intends to teach. In your view, how is evolution incompatible with what Scripture intends to teach?

Well first of all, the Scriptures say that the universe and the heavens declare the glory of God. Paul says it speaks clearly of his existence. If we can explain everything about the beginnings of life and everything else without needing God as an explanatory tool — in other words, if it can be completely explained naturalistically — it’s very hard to see how it gives evidence of the glory of God and his existence. Secondly, I do think there’s a legitimate difference in the text about the days, how old the universe is and how old the earth is. I’m an old-earth creationist, a progressive creation- ist, not a young-earth one, and there are solid Old Testament scholars who say there is plenty of room for differences on that issue. But it seems clear that when you read the Scriptures, God actually did some things and put his stamp of brilliance on living things that he made. And if that’s true, then the blind watchmaker thesis — that all of this could happen naturally and God can guide as long as there’s no evidence of it — seems to me to be to flying in the face of a fairly standard read of the activity of God in Genesis in bringing into being the various kinds of living things.

Some people might say, “Well, I can’t know how God created, just that he did it.” Why is this an important issue for Christians to wrestle with? What’s at stake here?

First is the historical credibility of the early chapters of Genesis. They provide the theological foundation for Christ’s coming. Jesus himself acted as though Adam and Eve were real. If we think the early chapters of Genesis were some mythological narrative just to teach some sort of ethical or theological truth, but it wasn’t rooted in history, then that calls into question the very foundation of the rest of the Scriptures, because many of them are addressing what happened in those early chapters of Genesis.

In addition to that, if you’re going to say this is the way God chose to create, then you’re going to say that God chose to use evil as his primary means of creating. In other words, God had a lot of different ways he could have brought things into being and his option of choice was to use the torture and pain of animals. Now that doesn’t sound to me like a very good God. My hope would be that the jungles being red in tooth and claw is a result of something going wrong with the universe rather than it being God’s first choice as to how he wanted to create. This calls into significant question God’s character.

Studies have shown that this supposed conflict between science and Scripture is one of the primary causes cited for young people walking away from the faith.

Barna did a study that identified six reasons why people are leaving the faith and the church. One of the six was the church is not helping people understand how to relate to contemporary science. What we’re trying to say is that the constant revisionist approach is going to yield peace, but it’s like pacifism in warfare. It’s like you keep paying a country not to bomb you. Eventually you are going to run out of money, if you know what I mean. And it’s not needed! We believe that we have been able to make a case that will show anybody who’s willing to read this book that extremely smart, knowledgeable, well-educated people have presented arguments that have not been answered yet by the other side. And theistic evolution and naturalistic evolution are being propped up by social pressure, not by the actual strength of the arguments.


J.P. Moreland is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Biola’s Talbot School of Theology. He is an author of, contributor to or editor of over 90 books, including Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, and was recently named one of the 50 most influential living philosophers by


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  • Calvin January 5, 2018 at 8:58 AM

    Having taken a class from J.P. Moreland during my time at Biola and having a deep respect for him, I was interested to see how he would handle Theistic Evolution. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see sloppy arguments put forth by him in the above interview. While I recognize how challenging it may be to condense 1,000 pages of ideas into a short interview, nevertheless the main points he put forth were unconvincing. First, the theory of theistic evolution that he refutes is a straw man, so narrowly defined, making it all the easier to refute. Second, he makes a huge assumption in saying that Jesus "acted as though Adam and Eve were real." I'd be interested to hear his Scriptural proof for this, as I cannot think of any passage where Jesus acts this way. Third, and most troubling, he seems to imply that the authority of Scripture rests in how one reads Genesis. The authority of Scripture is not rooted in Genesis, but in the character, reality, and work of God. God is the one who makes Scripture authoritative, not a specific reading of the first few chapters. Finally, and this is less a critique of his arguments and more his methodology, if you want to help young people see the compelling arguments for Intelligent Design, a 1,000 page book is not going to appeal to them. This seems to me to be an exercise in preaching to the choir.

  • Donald Johnson January 6, 2018 at 10:27 AM

    There is a war between science and some versions of Christianity, but it is because some atheists and some Christian "traditionalists" want to fight a war; there is no need for it, not any requirement that the interaction between the two be seen as a war.

    It is true that acceptance of evolution can be a driver in trying to figure out what the genre of early Genesis is, since there are some forms of reading Genesis that are incompatible with evolution. But the text itself gives clues about what type of genre the early Genesis stories are written in.

  • jude January 6, 2018 at 11:23 AM

    In the not-so-distant past, people believed that tornadoes and lightning were divine acts. No explanation could be found for how tornadoes formed. After all, the wind always blows in a certain direction, never in a circle. The basic, demonstrable laws of physics agreed with that. What natural force could possibly cause wind to move in tight circles with such tremendous force? Even the thought of it is ludicrous. Certainly, nothing approaching a tornado had ever been produced by man. No observable experiment could be devised to explain a tornado. “Micro-tornadoes” could be formed, certainly. People could accept that small natural variations in the wind could produce dust devils. But “macro-tornadoes?” Impossible. “The odds of such a thing occurring by chance are so remote that it could never happen within the timescale of the age of the universe, and here is the equation to prove it.” This argument may sound silly, but this is exactly the type of science that “Intelligent Design” reasoning produces. Of course, tornadoes have much less information content than do biological systems, but that is irrelevant to the discussion. The discussion is about the methodology for seeking answers. Without already knowing and trusting the science behind meteorology, Christians who favor an Intelligent Design methodology would be prone to say, “It’s obviously a divine act of God, and Bible verses can be found to support God’s supernatural activity in the weather. Therefore it must be true.” If we had stopped with the Intelligent Design answer hundreds of years ago, we’d still happily believe that weather phenomena were divine acts of God. As Christians, we can understand that the weather or anything else in nature is directed day-by-day, second-by-second by God’s providence. But are they miracles? Certainly not all of them. God may intervene with a miracle from time to time, as recorded in the Bible. But to ascribe a natural process to a miracle simply on the basis of us not understanding every detail of how it occurs is not glorifying God.

    The Intelligent Design crowd will say that science, their science, disproves abiogenesis (the origin of life) and evolution (the diversification of life). Let’s be clear — real science does not have any currently workable theory for the origin of the first life and DNA. That being the case, accepting the Intelligent Design argument and to stop looking for natural explanations is not really science. They want to stop science dead in its tracks because they think their answer glorifies God. What if God did use natural mechanisms for the origin of life that we just haven’t discovered yet? We’d never find out if we accept their crude statistical model. By definition, the Intelligent Design argument precludes science because they think they have the answer.

  • jude January 6, 2018 at 11:27 AM

    The Discovery Institute’s Phillip Johnson concedes that evolution may occur at stages up to the phylum level (for example, all vertebrates, including fishes, reptiles, and mammals, including man, are part of the same sub-phylum vertebrata.) However, Johnson “does not attempt to argue the question now, because certain crucial work in progress that bears on common ancestry has yet to be published.” Mr. Johnson is a lawyer, not a scientist. As I don’t wish to misrepresent his position, I will state clearly that he denies the common descent of all life. But he cannot point to any specific weakness in evolutionary theory for explaining the common descent of genera (groups of species) and several higher taxa. Why stop there? If he’s open to evolution at the class, order, family, genus and species levels, is there some point in making an argument that we aren’t related to jellyfish? Since the time of Johnson’s statement, the difficulty of explaining evolution at the phylum level has collapsed due to the sequencing of Hox genes, comparative genomics and other recent advances in developmental biology. His “crucial work” has arrived. The intelligent design proponents’ pseudoscientific and false mathematical arguments fail, time and time again. Intelligent design is not credible as a science.

    To those who see an unbridgeable gap between “naturalistic science” and “creation science”: What if… just what if God created natural mechanisms capable of producing the diversity of life that we see? What if He didn’t just go “POOF” and make mankind and other species or their DNA fully formed?

    The intelligent design methodology would never be able to arrive at the answer of how God did it, because it would never ask the question. Whereas the traditional scientific method can go a long way toward discovering these mechanisms. The “creation science” explanation for the diversity of life is, “God did it! Stop looking further!”

    A better Christian scientific answer is, “God did it! We’ve seen that created the elements, stars, planets, and other incredible complexity in this universe using natural mechanisms. If He created species in the same way, let’s learn how, and let’s do it with integrity.”

  • Edwardtbbinski January 7, 2018 at 9:24 PM

    The Theistic Evolution book is an insult to modern geologic science. None of the authors wants to stand up for the age of the earth, as if the science is less clear on the age of the earth than it is concerning evolution. Actually, the reverse is true, and the known age of the earth and known sequences of geologic time have been crosschecked around the world, and that is what set the stage for subsequent theories of shared ancestries since the trees of life based on comparative morphology/physiology match trees of life based on the sequence in which various organisms first appear in the fossil record, which also match trees of life based on genetic comparisons, including trees of life based on shared retroviral genes that inserted themselves into genomes via random contacts with viruses over time.

  • Edwardtbabinski January 8, 2018 at 1:24 AM

    It appears BIOLA is in need of better apologists. Contra Moreland and Meyers’s claim that the Cambrian phyla came out of nowhere with no evidence as to their earlier origin...

    Note the Sequence of Fossils in the Pre-Cambrian And How Evolution-Like It Appears
    1. Before the Cambrian we have some very rare and early evidence of single–celled microorganisms, prokaryotes and eukaryotes (acritarchs).
    2. Early Ediacaran: SPONGE–grade organisms (Sponges consist of communities of single–celled eukaryotes, and a sponge run through a sieve that disconnects all of its cells can re–assemble into a sponge again). So we went from a world of single-called organisms (that lasted for a couple billion years, just single-cells evolving) to some of the simplest communities of multi-cellular organisms, sponges.
    3. Later Ediacaran: Multicellular animals with a bit more complexity, i.e. cnidarian–grade organisms, jellyfish, whose cells include some that are specialized for capturing food. Their bodies consist of a non-living jelly-like substance, sandwiched between two layers of skin cells that are mostly one cell thick. They have two basic body forms: swimming medusae (jellyfish for example) and non-swimming forms, both of which are radially symmetrical (bi-symmetry is a later development) with mouths surrounded by tentacles that bear cnidocytes, stinging cells. Both forms have a single opening and a body cavity that are used for both digestion and respiration.
    4. Very late Ediacaran: Simple SLUG–grade/WORM–grade organisms (based on the fossilized tracks and burrows they left behind). The earliest ones only left behind tracks, implying that the ability to burrow was a later development. The appearance at this point of animals able to make tracks suggests that the organisms are no longer radially symmetrical but now have a definite front and back end, a mouth that is now separate from its anus, and a gut connecting them. These are almost certainly bilateral organisms, the earliest evidence of them. This is important because the Cambrian phyla that arise later are bisymmetrical.
    5. Very late Ediacaran: The earliest known animals with biomineralized “skeletons” appear, and having hard parts increases the odds of an animal’s fossilization. So we no longer have merely the evidence of tracks and burrows but can see the outlines of these early worm-like species themselves such as Cloudina, basically a WORM secreting a tube, as well as the first evidence of predatory boring. Cloudina gets no mention at all in Meyerʼs book in the Cambrian.


  • Edwardtbabinski January 8, 2018 at 1:31 AM


    6. We have reached the beginning of the Cambrian, and start to see more complex burrowing – e.g., vertical, straight up and down burrowing through sediment, clearly indicating WORM–grade organization and an internal fluid skeleton able to apply enough pressure to burrow straight down through soil, i.e. these organisms are sturdier, probably having a coelom, an extra layer of cells inside the worm’s body that helps holds the gut more firmly in place. The burrows gradually increase in complexity over 10 million years. The Cambrian “explosion” itself took place over tens of millions of years.
    7. SMALL SHELLY organisms: These fossilized shells start out looking small and simple, gradually diversifying in size and shape, developing into more complex types of shells, radiating especially in the Tommotian. By “shells” I don’t mean sea shells so much as mineralized external body shells, tiny claws and other evidence of diversified body plans that are continuing to evolve prior to the Cambrian “explosion.” By the end of the Tommotion, some of the “small shellies” can be identified as parts of larger, “classic” Cambrian animals. Deposits like the Chenjiang have dozens and dozens of trilobite–like and arthropod–like organisms that preceded the Cambrian "explosion" which fall cladistically outside of these respective clades—these are transitional forms! The Tommotian is an utterly key period for any serious discussion of the Cambrian explosion. Unfortunately, the word “Tommotian”, or any equivalent terminology does not even appear in Meyer’s book in the Cambrian explosion! The Small Shelly Fauna (SSF) gets just one (one!) mention in the book, buried in endnote 27 of Chapter 4.).

    All of the above evolution-like stages of increasing complexity preceded the Cambrian "explosion."


  • Edward T. Babinski January 8, 2018 at 2:22 AM

    But let’s go on, shall we, and look at the phyla that “exploded” onto the scene after all of the above stages of evolutionary development.

    Many of the of the phyla that “exploded” onto the scene in the Cambrian are basically still worms. Early representatives of the phyla known as mollusks and chordates are much more wormlike than modern day representatives with their more complex body plans.

    Way back in the Cambrian era the earliest members of the phylum Chordata (i.e., chordates, of which humans are members) resembled filter–feeding worms with merely a thin notochord running down its length, and a slightly darkened eyespot at one end of that notochord. It could probably swim a little bit, at least well enough to remain in place and continue to filter feed. But keep in mind how wormlike it was along with other early phylum representatives. It did not have jaws, scales, a bony skeleton (no cranium, no vertebrae), nor anything else that most readers would associate with the word “fish.” And in the next closest geological period its larger sized relatives continued to lack a jaw and merely had rounded sucking mouths.

    For illustrations, and a discussion of why Meyer’s praise of Agassiz’s creationism over Darwin’s view of common ancestry is misguided, google the following search string

    Scrivenings cambrian explosion no help to intelligent design

  • Edward T. Babinski January 8, 2018 at 3:24 AM

    Meant to say that the earliest known representatives of the phylum Mollusca were all more sluglike, and that more complex and diverse species of mollusks were yet to come.

    In similar fashion, the earliest known representatives of the phylum Chordata were all more wormlike, and that more complex and diverse species of chordates were yet to come.

  • Andrew Raymond Stuck January 11, 2018 at 9:10 PM

    I found Moreland’s discussion of the problem of evil with regards to evolution to be rather disingenuous, for two reasons. First, the question has occupied the minds of every religious scholar ever since the first bit of Scripture was put to paper. The problem of pain, suffering, and evil has been a problem since long before the time of Darwin. Whether it originates before or after the Fall of Adam does nothing to change the questions we have asked about it since time immemorial. Secondly, as an admitted Old Earth Creationist, Moreland undercuts his own position with his statements on the problem. His position still includes billions of years of animals preying upon each other, injuring themselves, even merely dying of old age. Countless species are created and then go extinct for no apparent reason in this model. To suggest that this represents a special ethical issue for evolution is nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black.
    I have nothing but respect for Moreland’s philosophical and theological studies: “Love Your God With All Your Mind” occupies prime real estate on my bookshelf. I don’t intend to belittle the book discussed in the article with petty corrections. However, the arguments as presented in the interview don’t get across much of a sense of understanding of the actual viewpoints of those it hopes to critique.

  • David Campbell January 18, 2018 at 6:02 AM

    "as long as there is no way to detect that he did it. If you are able to detect God’s activity scientifically, " exemplifies the error of the ID movement. "Able to detect" is equated with "able to detect scientifically". But science, despite being quite useful for physical questions, is very limited in its ability to test theological questions. Trying to detect God's role in creation by examining evolutionary biology is rather like trying to understand this interview by an analysis of the physics of the computer. You have to read the text, not look at the science, to understand what the text is about.

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