Distinguishing Central and Secondary Issues
That the biblical God is our magnificent Creator is a central truth that unites Christians of all stripes. This should give us ample cause for wonder, for celebration, for trust. Our varied opinions of the mechanisms he may have employed are secondary issues.
A Biblical Posture
In approaching this discussion there is a preferable posture to adopt, one that befits a follower of Jesus Christ, one that is enjoined by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. As maturing children of God, we are increasingly oriented toward others. We value relationships and seek to understand why others reason the way they do. We guard against the sins of arrogance and divisiveness. We respect that there are different ways of looking at the same thing. We are humbly aware that our own perspectives are limited and biased by our culture, tradition, exposure, and networks.
Jesus makes it clear how his followers must treat each other. “Love one another as I have loved you. The world will know you are mine by how you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
Paul tells us to embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love in our relations with one another. In such a manner we are to pursue unity within God’s family (Col 3:12-14; Eph 4:1-3). In Romans 14-15 Paul explains to Christians with disparate views on non-essential issues how they are to treat one another. This section is highly applicable to our topic at hand. He exhorts us to embrace those with whom we differ and to accept others as Christ has accepted us. In 1 Corinthians Paul admits the limitations of his knowledge, something also germane to our discussion: “Now we see things incompletely as in a cloudy mirror…all that I know is partial and incomplete” (1 Cor 13:11-12).
A Broad Framework
We offer here an introduction to two popular models of relating biblical creation to biological evolution.
A. The Conflict Model Creationism versus Evolutionism (held by about 60% of US Christians)
1. What Divides these Two Poles?
These polarized extremes are seen by their advocates as antagonistic and threatening. Their sometimes militant approach can feel to the ‘opposition’ as though they are trying to invade and take over the other’s territory. Radical creationism seeks to undermine ‘naturalistic science’ and scientism wants to overthrow ‘irrational religion’. Because these poles get the lion’s share of the media’s attention, many assume the conflict model is the only way to approach the interaction of creation and evolution.
2. What Unites Them? They Agree on Many Presuppositions
The number of options? Only two, creation or evolution. The relationship between them? Either/or; they are presumed to stand in irreconcilable opposition. The nature of biological evolution? In this model evolution is seen as inherently atheistic (or even anti-theistic). The teaching of the Bible? It is thought to demand that each species is a distinct, unrelated special creation, each miraculously ‘poofed’ out of thin air.
B. The Complementarian Model Creation via Evolution (held by about 40% of US Christians)
My adoption of this model was slow and progressive. I found the evidence for evolution to be compelling, fascinating, and worship-inspiring, and I was not alone. (See My Journey.)
Other Advantages of this Integrated Framework
1. Appreciates How God Usually Works in the World
Does it minimize God’s handiwork when we discover the mechanisms he employs? Meteorology explains why it rains, yet we still thank God for watering the earth. With the eyes of faith, Christians can discern the hand of God working through natural means. We can view the world in two integrated dimensions—natural and divine. Common examples include our multi-layered appreciation of the formation of babies and God’s gift of daily bread. Why not also in the generation and expansion of life on earth?
2. Grasps the True Nature of Science
Science is successful and reproducible because it limits itself to natural explanations of physical phenomena. In nature, it can answer “How?” but cannot address the “Who?” or the “Why?” questions. There is a critical distinction between methodological naturalism (how science works) and metaphysical naturalism (the belief that science is the only way to know things; scientism). Science at its best is metaphysically neutral and thus can be incorporated into various philosophical and theological systems, which explains why scientists inhabit all three major groups: atheists, agnostics, and theists.
3. Opens the Door to Integration for Scientists and Students
This model breaks down the unnecessary dividing barrier thought to separate Scriptural realities and scientific realities. Gone here is the false dichotomy that forces a choice between God and evolution. Scientists have no need to jettison their science in coming to Christ and students have no need to abandon their faith as they learn about evolution.
4. Respects the Contextual Nature of Scriptural Communication
Scripture affirms the scientific perspectives endemic to the ancient Near East. Is this simply the science-of-the-day, a vehicle for communicating more critical truths, or is it “timeless truth” that should trump all future discoveries? What do we do with all the ancient science the Bible presumes? Like slavery, ancient science can be left with the ancients.
C. Why These Models Make Great Sense to Their Respective Advocates
The Conflict Model
1. Takes selective scientific cues from Scripture
2. Distrusts science as having an atheistic bias
Methodological naturalism is thought to be inseparable from metaphysical naturalism
3. Denies the evidence for evolution
4. Presumes that some natural mechanisms are eternally inexplicable and, as such, provide “proofs” of supernatural intervention
5. Insists on multiple “poofing” events
The Complementarian Model
Reverse each of these 5 points above to grasp the presuppositions of those who view evolution as God’s marvelous means of creation.
With this perspective, science and theology both seek understanding, but generally they address different topics, raise different questions, and use different methods. Together they allow a richer view of the world.