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The fourth chapter of Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation
is a contribution by Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters entitled The Science of Evolution and the Theology of Creation. Peters is a Lutheran theologian who has written on science and faith while Hewlett is a molecular biologist by training. This chapter rambles though a number of topics providing background that should prove useful to a student who is new to the idea of thinking through these issues.

Hewlett and Peters take a position generally described as theistic evolution.  God as primary cause – the creator – uses secondary causes as his tools of creation. Science investigates and illuminates these secondary causes. Evolutionary theory describes one such secondary cause.

This is a position held with some subtle variations by many, likely most, active Christian scientists, and many Christian theologians – NT Wright among others. Tim Keller is somewhat reserved in his statements – but as far as I can tell his arguments are not against the scientific evidence, but against some expressions of theistic evolution that border on deism. This criticism – that theistic evolution borders on deism, with a god who starts things going and steps aside – is a criticism that must be considered carefully. So the first question to consider is this:

How does theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from deism?

Another criticism of evolutionary creation is that it comes close to saying that the world God created was inherently evil, that sin and fallness are part of the natural order.  So a second important question arises.

How does a Christian view of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from the Gnostic view of an inherently evil creation from which we must escape?

Francis Collins describes his theistic evolution position as follows:

God,
who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and
established the natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this
otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant
mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all
sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to
give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge
of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with
Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey
the Moral Law. … This perspective makes it possible for the
scientist-believer to be intellectually fulfilled and spiritually
alive, both worshiping God and using the tools of science to uncover
some of the awesome mysteries of his creation. (p. 201, The Language of
God)

Hewlett and Peters would likely affirm Collins’s definition – but go beyond
this and offer seven principles of theistic evolution (pp. 78-80 – extracted and paraphrased below). They
suggest that these principles are a model to shed light on further
theological reflection and to provide spiritual guidance. These
principles are somewhat different from descriptions of theistic
evolution I’ve seen elsewhere and are worth some discussion.

Seven Principles of Theistic Evolution

1. The Darwinian model of evolution should be conditionally accepted.  This is today’s best science.

2. God is the primary cause while nature operates according to secondary causes. As primary cause, God is the creator of all things. Science studies only the secondary causes.

3. God has a purpose for nature that scientists cannot see within nature.

4. God’s promised new creation provides the purpose for the present creation. Science cannot shine a light on the new creation promised by the Bible, we can apprehend it only in faith and trust.

5. God creates from the future, not from the past. The new creation, the redeemed creation of Revelation 21 and 22 is anticipated from the beginning.

6. The book of Genesis does not describe a finished event in the past; rather it describes the full sweep of God’s creative activities that includes us today.  They suggest that today we are still within days one to six of Genesis 1. Day seven commences with the arrival of the prophesied New Jerusalem.

7. Redemption coincides with creation. They believe that creation cannot be understood from the perspective of faith unless it is viewed in the light of redemption.

A few observations:

For the most part these principles are consistent with the definition given by Collins and with any definition that I would give. In general we can trust that science will, eventually, elucidate the secondary causes used in God’s creation. God’s creation is rational and uniformitarianism is the rule, a reasonable expectation. We can generally trust that both Christian and non-Christian scientists will agree on the basic facts of the workings of nature. We all do science in the same way.

God does intervene in his creation (despite Cohen’s assertion to the contrary discussed in the last post)  – but only in accord with his plan, only for a purpose. His intervention is not tinkering – to perfect an imperfect first attempt – but to establish relationship with mankind – created in his very image and likeness. His intervention is not arbitrary – and it does not invalidate the general scientific method.

Hewlett and Peters provide a framework for thinking about the interaction of God with his creation. Creation is an ongoing process. The fall was not a detour requiring corrective action, but an anticipated consequence of creation of mankind with intelligence and free will.

I find the suggestion by Hewlett and Peters that we are still in the six days of creation intriguing – but I am not sure that it is the right image. NT Wright has suggested that the seventh day of creation stretched from creation to resurrection – that Jesus was raised on the first day of the new week. Wright’s proposal makes more sense to me – but Hewlett and Peters’ view may provide a description that counters the suggestion that evolutionary creation borders on a Gnostic view of evil inherent in creation.

What do you think? Do these views fall into the traps of Deism or Gnosticism? Have you another better description of evolutionary creation?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

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