A zoo keeper, walking by the animal cages one day, sees an orangutan with two books under his arms. One is the Bible; the other, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Surprised, the zoo keeper asks this rather extraordinary primate, “Why are you reading those books?”
“Well,” says the ape, “I just want to know who I really am.”
“What do you mean?” the zoo keeper responds.
“I want to know whether I’m my brother’s keeper,” says the ape, lifting up the Bible, “or if I am”—and he holds up Darwin’s book—“my keeper’s brother.”
However silly it is, this anecdote does lead to an important point regarding the contrast between the two common theories of human origins: evolution and the Creation narrative found in the Bible. Are we, as the famous evolutionist Richard Dawkins claims, just highly evolved “African apes,” or are we beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)? In the former view, we are mere chance creations, “a chemical scum,” according to the late astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking. In the latter case, we are created beings so beloved by our Creator that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).1
It’s hard to imagine two more contradictory views of what is, perhaps, the most important question humans can ask: Who are we, and why are we here?
Or maybe not. Many people argue that an evolutionary understanding of human origins is quite compatible with the biblical account. They claim that evolution simply explains “scientifically” the process by which the God of the Bible created humanity. They are two harmonious streams that teach the same story and head toward the same place.
Is this view correct? Can evolution be harmonized with the Bible in a way that doesn’t destroy them both? This article takes the position that if evolution is true, biblical faith in Creation is pointless, and if Creation is true, evolution is impossible.
theistic and naturalistic evolution
Two overarching types of evolution are promulgated by those who believe in it. The first is naturalistic evolution. This is the evolution that’s taught in textbooks and the evolution of most biologists, paleontologists, and scientists who study or utilize the theory. It’s also the evolution that Charles Darwin—the one who brought the theory into the modern world—believed.
Naturalistic evolution. The essence of this theory goes somewhat as follows: The same laws of chemistry and physics that function today created, by accident, a simple form of life somewhere on earth between three and four billion years ago. Perhaps starting in a shallow pool, this simple life-form was able to repeatedly replicate itself to the point that over time—lots of time (billions of years, in fact)—it grew more and more complicated, branching out and evolving, through “random mutation” and “natural selection,” into all the varied forms of life known today—from mushrooms to sea urchins to human beings.
The crucial point in this model is that everything occurred through naturalistic processes alone. No supernatural, no divine intervention, was involved in any way or at any stage. The basic laws of nature got it all started to begin with and then, through long and violent eons of time, “created” everything that lives.
Theistic evolution, on the other hand, accepts the naturalistic concept about billions of years of life and death, extinctions, the survival of the fittest, and so on, and its advocates claim that this was the means the God of the Bible used to create all life-forms on our planet. Some claim that God got the process started and then stepped back, letting the laws of nature take over, which explains why billions of years of chance and luck were needed to bring intelligent humans into existence. Others assert that God not only started the process but at certain times intervened in order to keep the otherwise haphazard mechanisms going in the right direction. Still others argue that God didn’t step into the process until He breathed a soul into Adam or into some prehuman, which then made this being fully human, formed “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27).
Regardless of these differing views, the crucial point is that theistic evolution, in contrast to naturalistic evolution, brings the God of the Bible into the evolutionary story of life’s origins. And, unfortunately, however well-meaning theistic evolutionists might be in their sincere attempt to meld evolution with the Bible, it doesn’t work.
Life versus death
For starters, central to the theory of evolution is the scenario of violence, suffering, extinctions, and death as the means of evolving life. Yet nothing in the Genesis Creation account hints at pain, suffering, violence, and especially, death. On the contrary, every step of Creation is depicted as “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21) until the finished work is declared “very good” (verse 31). On the other hand, nowhere in the Bible is death depicted as “good.” Death, or rather the potential of death, doesn’t arise until after the Creation has already been completed, and even then it’s presented only as a possibility, a potential state, and only if the prohibition against eating from a particular tree is violated.
Here’s the key question about theistic evolution as the method God used for creating life on earth, including human life: what does it say about the character of a God who took billions of years of suffering, extinction, survival of the fittest, and so forth, to create? If evolution is how God chose to create, then He’s responsible for the natural evil that He, Himself, built into the universe from the start. Suffering, death, and natural evil, instead of being the result of free beings who abused their freedom of choice (see Genesis 3), were wired into the creation by God Himself. According to this theology, God didn’t speak the world into a perfect existence. Rather, He spit, gagged, and coughed out His creation by random natural processes that, of necessity, included evil, suffering, and death.
Finally, if evolution is true, why did God give us a story in Genesis that’s the opposite of what really happened? Though the Bible says that God created our present world in seven days (Genesis 1:31–2:3)—it really took billions of years? Though Genesis said that everything was planned out precisely (Genesis 1:6, 7, 11, 24)—it really was a process of fits, starts, gaffs, errors, mutations, and the pure luck of the draw? Though Genesis teaches that God made each species after “its kind” (Genesis 1:12, 25)—we really all had a single common biological ancestor? And though the Bible is very clear that humans were made in a distinct manner that’s different from the way He created all other life-forms, “in the image of God”—we really are just advanced apes?
Though the Bible says that God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), if theistic evolution is true, then not only did God lie, but He did so about one of most important truths found anywhere in the Bible: Creation itself.
Theistic evolution and the Cross
And the problem gets worse. Jesus, our Creator (John 1:1–3), is also our Redeemer (verse 12)—the One who died so that we could again be called “children of God.” And the doctrine of redemption is inseparable from the biblical Creation account, particularly the creation of Adam, the father of the human race. In numerous places, the New Testament points to the existence of a literal Adam whose fall into sin necessitated the plan of salvation that culminated with Jesus’ death on the cross.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul, seven times in one chapter (Romans 5:12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19), makes an unambiguous one-to-one parallel between the Adam of the Genesis Creation story and Jesus. The gist of his argument is this: Christ came to undo the damage to humanity that was caused by Adam’s sin. There’s a direct line from Adam to Christ, “For if by the one man’s offense [Adam] death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Paul explicitly and repeatedly assumed the literal existence of Adam, whose fall a literal Jesus came to redeem.
Yet how could such a being like the Adam depicted in Genesis and Romans have come into existence through the evolutionary model? We’re supposed to believe that God used billions of years of violence, predation, extinction, disease, suffering, and animal death to, finally, create the first Homo sapiens, Adam? Then, the baby Adam (after all, in an evolutionary model he couldn’t start out as an adult, could he?) grew up, without sin, into a holy adult? Finally, we need to believe that, at some point, this holy Adam (and we can’t forget the evolution of Eve) fell into sin, bringing “condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18, RSV),2 which necessitated Jesus and the plan of redemption?
The scenario makes no sense. That’s why many theistic evolutionists, realizing that it makes no sense, have taken the unfortunate step of denying the existence of a literal Adam, at least as depicted in Genesis and in Romans. They actually don’t have a choice. This means, however, that the central argument of Romans 5—in which Paul seven times contrasts a literal Adam with a literal Jesus, then uses Adam’s transgression as the catalyst for Christ’s work in our behalf—falls apart.
And so, too, does a key theme of the Bible: the plan of redemption.
Baptizing the devil
For these reasons and many others, theistic evolution fails. Only by the most radical reinterpretation of the Bible to the point of either having the texts mean the opposite of what they say (as in the Genesis Creation account) or of turning key theological texts into absurdity (as in Romans 5) can evolution be crammed into the Bible.
Why, though, do so many well-meaning Christians take a position that puts them in much closer harmony with the atheist and anti-Christian crusader Richard Dawkins than with the author of Genesis? The simplest answer is that, today, science is deemed the surest and most certain source of knowledge. And because evolution is science, many feel that they have to accept it as truth. Once someone makes the claim, “But it’s science!” the automatic assumption is that people must surrender any and all contrary beliefs.
This idea is a fallacy, and I wrote a book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, to help Christians see through that fallacy. The history of science is filled with teachings that once were believed to be certain but later had to be discarded as false. So what makes people think the same thing couldn’t someday happen to the theory of evolution?
Like the orangutan presented in the story at the beginning of this article, we’re given two contrasting views of origins: the Bible and Darwin. Will we follow Darwin and be our keeper’s brother, or will we choose the Bible and be our brother’s keeper? Theistic evolution’s attempt to have it both ways fails, and miserably so.
1. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture in this article is quoted from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2. Bible verses quoted from RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.