This week, the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann Gauger, and Wayne Grudem, will be released by Crossway.1 The 1,007-page-long book has been widely touted as the definitive refutation of theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism. The statement on the book’s back cover makes the bold claim that it is “the most comprehensive critique of theistic evolution yet produced.”
Contributors to the book at several recent Christian conferences have promoted it as a tool to equip Christians to refute theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism wherever and whenever they encounter it. Consequently, even though the book’s release date is not until November 30, it already ranks as the #2 Amazon best seller in its category (creationism).
The publisher sent me a review copy of the book in advance of publication. It is a collection of 33 essays by 25 different authors, with Stephen Meyer (PhD in philosophy of science), Christopher Shaw (PhD in molecular endocrinology), and Ann Gauger (PhD in developmental biology/zoology) serving as the science editors, J.P. Moreland (PhD in philosophy) serving as the philosophy editor, and Wayne Grudem (PhD in New Testament) serving as the theology editor.
I find myself in agreement with most of the content and conclusions of the book. I did note some potential weaknesses in the way several scientific arguments were framed that may cause evolutionists to reject the book’s conclusions. Nevertheless, in spite of these weaknesses, I find that the book’s conclusions remain sound.
I do worry, however, about how the tone of some of the essays may be interpreted. Rather than attempting to engage theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists in a respectful, gentle, winsome manner, many of the authors wrote in a way that can be seen as contentious. Even the essay titles in several instances brandish a combative stance.2, 3, 4 This demeanor is more likely to provoke rather than win over theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists.
The thrust of the book is that theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists are wrong about their interpretations of the origin and history of Earth’s life (and of human origins and history in particular) and also wrong about their interpretation of Genesis 1–3. However, none of the authors provide an alternative detailed model for the interpretation of the origin and history of life and humanity or for the interpretation of Genesis 1–3.
The book explicitly refuses to take a position on the age of the earth.5 While the book’s authors claim that Genesis 1–3 is a historical narrative, it offers no details on what that narrative is. It is clear that the editors chose these purposeful ambiguities so that the book would not offend any evangelical interpretations and, thus, could gain wide appeal throughout the Christian community.
It is doubtful, though, that the book will have significant measurable appeal outside the Christian community. The book’s editors have ignored a fundamental principle in evangelizing to scientists and science-minded persons. In my experience, such people will typically not convert to Christianity until they see an alternative detailed model or models with greater explanatory power and superior predictive success to their naturalistic models. Likewise, theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists will typically remain theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists until they see a detailed alternative interpretation of Genesis 1–3 and a detailed alternative explanation of life’s and humanity’s origins.
Different Kind of Natural Order?
My colleagues in the life sciences at Reasons to Believe will comment on the science chapters in Theistic Evolution that address the origin and history of life and humanity. Here, I will respond to the repeated claim in the book that the natural order of Earth and its ecosystem was radically different before the fall of Adam in Eden.
The claim is most explicitly stated in Wayne Grudem’s essay, “Theistic Evolution Undermines Twelve Creation Events and Several Crucial Christian Doctrines.”6 In Grudem’s list of twelve theistic evolution beliefs that conflict with crucial Christian doctrines, I agree that the first ten of the twelve deserve to be on the list and heartily endorse Grudem’s critiques of those ten. It is #11 and #12 that I find problematic.
Grudem’s title for #11: “God Never Created an Originally ‘Very Good’ Natural World in the Sense of a Safe Environment That Was Free of Thorns and Thistles and Similar Harmful Things.”7 Grudem’s title for #12: “After Adam and Eve Sinned, God Did Not Place Any Curse on the World That Changed the Workings of the Natural World and Made It More Hostile to Mankind.”8
Grudem explains what he means by his titles. He asserts that Genesis 1–2 teaches that nowhere on Earth were there any thorns or thistles before Adam’s rebellion against God.9 Additionally, Grudem avows that there were no weeds and “no natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or droughts.”10 He states that God’s declaration in Genesis 1:31 that the creation was”very good” implies that previous to Adam’s sin, Earth had no poisonous snakes, venomous scorpions, mosquitoes, or carnivorous sharks and lions.11 According to Grudem, after Adam’s sin, “God altered the operation of nature . . . to make the world more hostile to human beings.”12
In these declarations, Grudem implies that Eden’s idyllic conditions encompassed the whole of Earth. I agree with Grudem that the Garden of Eden was free of thorns and thistles. It had no thorns and thistles because God had weeded the garden before he placed Adam in Eden. It was a gorgeous idyllic garden because God had designed and planted the garden (Genesis 2:8). A modern-day, albeit inadequate analogy would be the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia (go here to watch a 4-minute video tour).
Yes, conditions were more hostile for Adam and Eve after they were ejected from Eden. They no longer were living in a well-designed and well-kept garden.
Note that Adam had to work to tend the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) to keep it in the condition in which God had given it to him. Adam’s work in tending Eden implies that Earth was subject to the same laws of physics as are operating today. Likewise, the light and heat from the Sun that was shining upon Eden and the food that Adam was digesting establish that the laws of physics before Adam’s sin were the same as after Adam’s sin. (Both the digestion of food to be able to perform work and the sunlight necessary to sustain physical life on Earth would be impossible under even the tiniest of changes in the laws of physics.)
In Jeremiah 33, God declares that he is immutable (changeless). In Jeremiah 33:25 God says that just as the laws governing the heavens and the earth do not change, he does not change.
Grudem cites Romans 8:21 as proof that nature functioned under different physical laws before Adam sinned.13 Romans 8:21 states, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” The bondage to decay is an obvious reference to entropy, aka the second law of thermodynamics, and the reference that the redeemed children of God will eventually be liberated from their bondage to entropy is affirmed in Revelation 21:4. Referring to the future new creation, this text states, “‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Nothing in Romans 8 or anywhere else in the Bible, however, states that the universe or Earth was ever free of entropy. Just the opposite is the case. Ecclesiastes repeatedly declares that entropy has always been in effect. Romans 8:22 declares that the whole creation has been subject to the law of decay. General relativity, which today ranks as the most exhaustively tested and best proven principle in all physics, implies that the time and space dimensions of the universe are inseparable. Thus, the reference in Romans 8 to “the whole creation” applies to both the spatial and temporal extent of the universe. That is, Romans 8 implies that the universe has been subject to the law of entropy since the moment God created it.
Grudem also cites Genesis 3:17 for evidence that God altered the functioning of nature when Adam sinned.14 Genesis 3:17 reads, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Grudem presumes that the text here implies that God directly altered the physics of the ground and humans suffered the consequences.
I believe the phrase “because of you” implies that the ground suffered the consequences of being inhabited by sinful humans. That is, God is not saying that the ground is cursed because he changed the laws of physics. He is saying that the ground will be cursed because it will be abused by the sinful nature of human beings. The last ten thousand years of agricultural history testify to how the abusive management of cultivated fields and the rest of the terrestrial environment by humans has made both the fields and also the surrounding environments less productive than they otherwise would be and has resulted in humans needing to expend much more work, pain, and time (the curses upon humans God pronounced in Genesis 3:17–19) in gaining the sustenance they need from the land.
How Sin Fundamentally Impacted Creation
I do agree with Grudem that sin fundamentally impacted creation. However, Adam was not the first creature to sin—Satan was. The Bible is silent on the timing of Satan’s sin. It is possible that Satan’s initial rebellion against God occurred long before Adam’s, conceivably even before God created the universe or Earth.
I believe God had redemption in mind before he created anything. 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 1:2 at least imply, if not outright assert, that God began his work of redemption before he created our space-time realm. Thus, God in his foreknowledge, knowing that sin would occur, would have designed the universe with the optimal laws of physics and optimal physical features to efficiently and lovingly conquer and eradicate sin. I establish the reality and efficacy of this optimal design in my book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is.15
New Creation Not That New?
Grudem writes in his long essay in Theistic Evolution in reference to Romans 8:18–23, “Paul does not say that the creation will suddenly be raised to a brand-new, wonderful state of operation that it had never known before.”16 Here, Grudem implies that the future, eternal home of redeemed human beings will be on the present Earth with the altered laws of physics he hypothesizes that Earth possessed before Adam rebelled against God in Eden.
Revelation 21:5, however, declares, “I [Jesus Christ] am making everything new!” Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 writes, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” The pre-fall Earth that Grudem describes is not beyond what a human mind can conceive, nor is it a world where everything is new relative to the present Earth and its life.
Testimony of Astronomy and Physics
It is unfortunate that none of the editors or the publisher of Theistic Evolution had the book reviewed by someone with graduate training in astronomy or physics. If they had, they would have been apprised of measurements establishing that there has been no past alteration of the operation of nature. Because of the finite time it takes light to travel from stars, galaxies, and the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event to astronomers’ telescopes, astronomers are able to directly witness and measure the state of the universe at past epochs in the universe’s history. Those measurements establish that the physics of the universe has not been altered by any more than about one part per million over the past 12 billion years.17
Astronomers’ and physicists’ measurements also establish that the physics of the universe are inextricably linked to the physics of the solar system and the physics of Earth. That is, multiple independent measurements show that the laws and constants of physics that rule and have ruled the solar system and Earth must be identical to the laws and constants of physics that have ruled the universe.18
With the laws and constants of physics designed and structured the way they are, such natural events on Earth as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, or droughts will occur. In Theistic Evolution, an entire essay is devoted to these events in which the author refers to them as “natural evil.”19 Grudem20 concurs.
Natural evil is an inappropriate label to append to these natural events. Given the laws of physics God chose to govern the universe and Earth—laws that are optimally designed for the efficient eradication of evil while enhancing the free will capabilities of redeemed humans—these natural events are all at the optimized frequency and intensity to maximally benefit human civilization. As I have explained elsewhere,21 a world without any hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, wildfires, or volcanoes would cause Earth’s humans and animals to suffer much more death and suffering. For each of these kinds of natural events, both a slightly lower rate or slightly higher rate would prove to be less beneficial to humans and human civilization.22 Thus, these natural events are better labeled as natural rewards.
Improving on Nature?
Grudem asserts that “the natural world is not the best it could be.”23 Consequently, he extols “the value of seeking to improve on nature.”24 I do agree with Grudem that God designed a large number of plants and animals with the genetic adaptability so that they could be bred to provide more and better food. I would add that God also designed some animals so that they could be bred to serve us better and become better companions. However, these plants and animals are only “better” if they are protected and cared for by humans. Chihuahuas released into the wild would not survive, nor would Holstein cows bred to produce 80+ quarts of milk per day.
I devoted an entire book to explaining and documenting how, throughout the past 4.5 billion years, God has step-by-step miraculously intervened to improve Earth and its life for the specific benefit of human beings.25 In that book I explain and document how we humans are presently living in a 10,000-year wide sliver of time where Earth is scenically more beautiful than it ever has been or ever will be. That same narrow sliver of time is the only epoch in Earth’s past or future history during which billions of humans can live together, experience high-technology civilization, and use that technology and civilization to take the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to all the world’s people groups. We are living in a brief epoch that God has optimized for our benefit.
My concern is that our attempts to change the world to make it better will in fact make it worse. How can we improve on what God has optimized? As I read Job 37–39, it strikes me as a creation care manual. Those chapters in Job are exhortations to maintain Earth and its life in the condition God gave it to us. In another one of my books26 I describe how we can exercise the advice God grants us in the book of Job to restore the natural world to the way it was at the time Jesus walked the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem.
My concern for Theistic Evolution is that its many sound critiques of theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism will be dismissed or ignored by people outside of the evangelical Christian community because of the biblical and scientifically untenable position it takes on the natural realm being fundamentally different before Adam’s fall. My prayer is that the editors and authors of Theistic Evolution will acknowledge this error and take steps to correct it.