Archive for the ‘Science/Faith Dialogue’ Category

Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist and director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of several books on the harmony of science and Christian faith. In Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, he argues that the choice between creation or evolution is a false dichotomy. Throughout the book, the implied answer is no, we do not have to choose. Evolution is the only option for those who take scientific investigation seriously and for Christians who want to honor God in their study of His creation.

Alexander’s authority in the field of biology is put to good use, as three chapters of the book are devoted to explaining the theory and process of evolution. There are several pages of illustrations and figures as he talks about specific examples in the history of life. He is also fair to Young-Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents by using a total of four chapters to bring up many of their major objections and defend the theory against them. Since the book targets Christians, there is no doubt that many of his readers will hold these views, so it is critical that he address them well. He answers each objection and shows that many of them are based on a misunderstanding of the evolutionary process. However, at the end of these chapters, his writing comes across a little bitter toward them, asking rhetorical questions and challenging the godliness of YECs’ stewardship over their resources.1 Although I sympathize with his feelings, I worry that this cynical tone might turn YECs and ID proponents away, rather than warm them up to theistic evolution.

In addition to these scientific considerations, Alexander spends nearly half the book carefully considering Scripture and theology. He has more to offer here than Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, which left many theological questions open. Alexander seems to have a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language and a strong understanding of Christian theology. He spends two chapters on the biblical doctrine of creation, two on Adam and Eve, and one chapter each on the topics of death, the Fall, and evil. All of these are important considerations in the Christian doctrines of creation and sin, and Alexander approaches them from a theistic evolutionist’s perspective. He presents five models for interpreting the events of Genesis chapters 1-3. I won’t go into detail on these models except for his favored model C. It is the view that “God in his grace chose a couple of Neolithic farmers in the Near East, or maybe a community of farmers, to whom he chose to reveal himself in a special way, calling them into fellowship with himself – so that they might know him as a personal God.” 2 This view sees Adam and Eve as historical individuals, resulting from the process of evolution, whom God chooses to be the “federal head of the whole of humanity alive at that time.” 3 Up to this point, human beings would likely have developed language, culture, and perhaps even religion.4 But they would be morally neutral until they were in a relationship with God. I appreciate this view, because I have been convicted by other theologians, such as Timothy Keller, who affirm an historical Adam and Eve along with theistic evolution.5 This view, therefore, preserves the biblical idea of Adam as our covenantal representative, or “federal head,” as Alexander calls it.

Though he favors this view, he reminds us that it is just a working model. He considers it the best option available at the moment, but if something better came along, he “will readily discard C and adopt the new one.” 6 Because models such as these are fairly loose by nature, many questions are always hanging around. For example, one question that I have is how does C.S. Lewis’ idea of the moral law fit into model C? According to Lewis, we all have consciences which ring out in protest when we do something immoral, or when someone harms us. It helps us discern right from wrong, and by it, we know that we are guilty.7 This is the moral law that Francis Collins found appealing and which persuaded him to consider Christianity.8 Collins suggests that the moral law was given to us when we were given souls, perhaps when God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2.9 Alexander, on the other hand, argues that this passage only refers to God bringing Adam to life, making him a “living being.” 10 He doesn’t talk about it explicitly, but Alexander conveys the impression that the moral law would have developed in us by means of evolution, which is evidenced by traces of ancient religion, like the carved animals and figurines made out of ivory or stone.11 In his model C, the only thing that changed when God chose Adam and Eve was that He began a relationship with them. This means that the moral law was already present, illuminating them to God’s moral will before they even knew Him.

Collins presents evidence that evolution does not account for our sense of morality.12 However, I want to take Alexander’s humility and not express certainty about it. Who knows what we may discover? I also think Alexander’s exegesis of Genesis 2 is better. Nonetheless, I am inclined to lean toward Collins’ position that our Moral Law entered into us only when God established a relationship with Adam and Eve. It makes sense that human beings would begin to feel convicted about sin only after God had established a relationship, not beforehand, when they were morally neutral. My question about Model C, then, is how this fits in with all of the other human beings on the earth. Did they receive the moral law at the same time as Adam and Eve? Or after the Fall? There is a lot to consider, all while maintaining established truths, like Adam and Eve being the covenantal representatives of the race, and so on. Some who read this book may be frustrated that there are not concrete answers, but such is the nature of the theological discussion right now. It would be wrong to say that we know for sure, and we should be suspicious of those who say they are.

In any case, Alexander’s book is a great contribution to the discussion, and I highly recommend it. I especially invite YECs and ID proponents who are interested in learning more about theistic evolution to read this work. Alexander is a faithful guide through a murky controversy, and his book sets the foundation for further reading and research.


1. Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (UK: Monarch Books, 2008), 353.

2. Alexander, 236.

3. Alexander, 236.

4. Alexander, 231.

5. Timothy Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” Biologos Foundation, accessed December 18, 2012, http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf.

6. Alexander, 243.

7. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), 7.

8. Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 22.

9. Collins, 207.

10. Alexander, 195.

11. Alexander, 226.

12. Collins, 28-29.

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Christians claim that God is good. He made a good creation, and human beings are culpable for the evil in it. However, whether Christians or not, sometimes we wrestle with this. We blame God for the evil in the world. We wonder if it all really had to happen this way, if He could have stopped it. We call into question God’s goodness. Evil sometimes seems such a problem that it’s easier to slacken our theology than try to reconcile it. We’re tempted to sacrifice God’s omnipotence or His omnibenevolence. As time passes, and new generations enter the world, the problem persists. We ask more questions. In our society, it is often asked how the human origin from the process of biological evolution affects our understanding of the Fall. Is God’s goodness stained if certain evil desires were ingrained into our natures before human beings sinned? Does it stain the goodness of the original creation? In a homily on Genesis 1, Origen presents his theodicy, which sheds light on these questions for us.

Writing in a time when the church was still developing a proper interpretation of Scripture, Origen was a key player in reclaiming the Old Testament for the church. He made use of much allegory in order to show how every text applied directly to the church age. In his work, On First Principles, he suggested that all Scripture spoke to us in this spiritual sense, with no need for a move between exegesis and homiletics.1 In other words, the allegorical meaning always addresses the here-and-now, with no need to move from the then-and-there of the text.

We see Origen using his own interpretation method in his homily on Genesis 1. He writes to the church in Caesarea, probably between 238 and 244 AD, exhorting them to godly living.2 He sets about explaining how all aspects of the creation week represent the believer’s experience. For example, the phrase “the beginning” of verse one refers to Christ in which everything was created, not a temporal beginning of the universe.3 The spiritual heaven, mentioned in verse one, represents the heavenly mind of the believer, by which we perceive God and know His truth. The “firmament,” or corporeal heaven, of verse 6, represents the worldly mind of believers, by which we see things only in a temporal or physical way.4 Origen interprets the vegetation growing on the land as the fruit that we are to bear in our life with God, having been repurposed and named “earth,” refusing to remain “dry land.”5 When he gets to the creation of animals, he interprets them as thoughts or deeds of the Christian life, either godly or sinful. It is the Christian’s job to discern between them and give up to God those which are against Him. Birds, being animals of the heavens, are interpreted as godly thoughts. Creeping animals and sea creatures, particularly whales, are interpreted as evil thoughts, setting the mind on worldly things. Origen predicts that the congregation will challenge him on interpreting whales as evil when text says that “God saw that it was good.”6 Here is where he presents his theodicy.

Origen says that worldly thoughts, represented by the whales in the Genesis account, really are evil, but that God has good purposes for allowing them to be. They are intended for the good of His people. How? Origen answers eloquently, “How great the beauty and splendor is of light would not be discerned unless the darkness of night intervened.”7 Or “From the consideration of evil things the glory of good things is indicated more brilliantly.”8 In other words, evil stands in such stark contrast to the goodness of God that the latter is magnified and made more appealing to us. God wants creatures who freely choose to love Him, so He gives them an alternative choice, one that is so much worse in comparison with Him. It is as if He places a balance scale on the table before us and gestures toward the left pan, where flecks of dirt have no weight against the glowing brick of gold on the right end. The more we consider the worthlessness of the dirt, the more the significance of the gold stands out to us. God highlights His presence as the true blessing, tips the scales, and lets us see the difference. According to Origen, the presence of evil helps us to thirst for and seek God, and gives us the opportunity to prove our faithfulness to Him. All of creation, then, is good in His eyes.

Origen’s interpretation of Genesis 1 would be far-fetched using Reformed hermeneutics, but it does not invalidate his theodicy. His reading of the chapter ignores the original author, audience, and its historical context. He applies the phrase “and God saw that it was good” to the entire scope of history, both pre-Fall and post-Fall, while Reformed interpreters would argue that it refers only to the pre-Fall era. However, if we remove Origen’s theodicy from the context of Genesis 1 and examine it by itself, we find that it is biblically tenable. Perhaps we would use other texts to demonstrate it, such as Romans 8:28 or 9:22-23, but we can take his theodicy along with us as we proceed to think about human evolution during the pre-Fall era.

Throughout this discussion, I will take no stance on the historicity of Adam and Eve, whether they were symbolical of an early human population or whether they were an historical couple. However, for the purposes of language, I will speak of them as a couple, evolved and separated from the rest of the human population, and put into the garden of Eden.

Before the Fall, human beings had not sinned. However, Satan had sinned and had been thrown down to Earth, where he began to tempt human beings. God also put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden, which tempted Adam and Eve. The presence of Satan and the tree is explained by Origen’s theodicy. Through the means of their temptations, the threat of their consequences, and their stark contrasts with God, they reminded humanity of His goodness and gave Adam and Eve an opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. God allowed the presence of darkness in order to accentuate His light, His sufficiency to fulfill them, which was His alone. This helps us to affirm that God’s original creation was truly good, and that man is to blame for its corruption. However, evolution brings in a new perspective on the situation. There is perhaps more to consider.

In our society, we have great respect for rigorous scientific investigation, and we give much attention to the theory of biological evolution through natural selection.  The theory has substantial power to explain our origin and our nature. However, as we continue to learn about it, we find that the process has produced certain instincts, or desires, in us. And from a Christian perspective, certain desires of these are bordering on evil. For example, it is probable that, through history, human beings were polygamous.9 Such is our sex drive, that the desire for intercourse with more than one partner remains in us. As scientists continue to investigate, we may discover that evolution is the culprit for additional desires that we find in ourselves, such as same-sex attraction or impulses for murder.

Regardless of which desires, or how many, are questionable, what we need to ask is how can these seemingly evil desires be a part of God’s good creation? Why would God allow them? Does this change our understanding of the Fall? Did we have a propensity for sin earlier than we thought? Does it even go so far as to shift the culpability for the Fall from man to God? Clearly, addressing this issue is crucial for maintaining proper theology and communing reverently with God. First to realize is that the instinct or desire for these habits were not morally evil until acted upon after God established a relationship. Until that point, human beings were like any other animal: morally neutral and not accountable. God wants holiness from His people when He dwells among them, but not before. Secondly, these desires were God’s way of equipping His creatures for survival and reproduction as humanity became the creatures God wanted them to be. It is important to point out that, even though Adam and Eve would have these desires ingrained into their DNA, they would not have had a fallen nature yet. They were not captive to them. They were still freely able to love God and obey Him. Finally, God may have allowed the desires to play a role in tempting Adam and Eve. This is where Origen’s theodicy speaks directly to the problem. He says that experiencing darkness helps us to see the brilliance of light more appropriately. So Adam and Eve would better appreciate God’s presence and blessing when they could compare it to the temptation for evil that they found in themselves. These temptations would serve the same good purpose that the tree of knowledge of good and evil did: reminding them of the goodness of God and giving them the opportunity to obey Him. Of course, the Genesis account says nothing about evolution or the products of it. It is hard to say how much of a temptation they were. It could be that they weren’t an influence until after the Fall. As the account reads, the main sources of temptation in the garden were the tree and Satan.

So we can conclude that God indeed allowed habits to develop in certain animals by means of biological evolution through natural selection. These habits and desires were established in order to produce human beings, with whom He would have relationship. They were morally neutral until the time that God established a relationship with humanity. At that point, they became a source of temptation, likely used for the good purpose of testing and proving their faithfulness to God. This allows us to affirm the goodness of God and of His original creation. As Christians, we need not fear scientific discoveries. It is a privilege to explore and learn about the work of our Lord and Savior. We can rejoice with our biologist brothers and sisters as God reveals more of His creation, lifting up praise to the Maker of the universe, from Whom comes all of our knowledge and wisdom.


1. Origen, On First Principles: Book Four, in Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, trans. & ed. Karlfried Froehlich (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 62

2. Introduction to Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 71 of The Fathers of the Church, ed. Hermigild Dressler, Robert P. Russell, Thomas P. Halton, Robert Sider, Sister M. Josephine Brennan (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 23.

3. Origen, “Homily I,” in Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, trans. Ronald E. Heine, vol. 71 of The Fathers of the Church, ed. Hermigild Dressler, Robert P. Russell, Thomas P. Halton, Robert Sider, Sister M. Josephine Brennan (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 47.

4. Origen, “Homily I,” 49.

5. Origen, “Homily I,” 51.

6. Genesis 1:21, The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2002).

7. Origen, “Homily I,” 59.

8. Origen, “Homily I,” 59.

9. Michael Price, Ph.D., “Are People ‘Naturally’ Polygamous?” in From Darwin to Eternity, Psychology Today, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwin-eternity/201108/are-people-naturally-polygamous-0 (accessed November 24, 2012).

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In his introduction to St. Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation,” C. S. Lewis makes the claim that societies of a certain time period are limited to the perspective of their own day. He maintains that reading authors from earlier centuries helps a reader to see beyond his or her cultural and time-sensitive limitations. I claim that Christians participating in the modern debate about human origins and the biological theory of evolution could benefit from Lewis’ advice. Christian scholars and laypeople alike would find new insights on the discussion if they were to read earlier Christian writings on God’s creation.

Lewis wrote to a British audience of the 20th century, persuading them of the value of reading Athanasius’ work. He assumes his audience would rather read a modern, secondhand source than an old, firsthand one, and so explains the value of firsthand knowledge. It is better to listen to what older Christians actually said, in the context in which they said it, than to what modern Christians claim they said. Therefore, reading Athanasius’ actual words, albeit translated, is to read pure, unfiltered ideas, from the mind of one who lived in a different time.

All societies see things from a standpoint in time that is unique from both the past and the future, Lewis says. In many ways, that perspective might be useful to see truth in certain details of the world. However, there are other details about which those societies might be ignorant, based on the same perspective. By turning to authors who wrote outside of their time and setting, readers expose themselves to ideas free from the same restrictions. Often, older authors will help them to see areas where they are ignorant. Lewis gives an example of this for his own audience, using the work in question. Athanasius, he says, has a helpful understanding of miracles that is extremely relevant for his day. Many objected to the idea of the miraculous, as miracles purposelessly went against the laws of nature. He tells his audience that Athanasius’ approach to miracles is the “final answer” to those objections [pp. 9]. They would be able to better defend their faith to themselves and to others by reading his approach.

He also shows that Athanasius himself is an example to follow when it comes to combating the wrong doctrines and evil tendencies of one’s era. Arius was leading even Christian leaders away from the doctrine of the Trinity, and in “On the Incarnation,” Athanasius stood firm to defend it, refusing to “move with the times” [pp. 9].

Lewis’ counsel is timeless. It is just as relevant to 21st-century United States as it was to 20th-century England.  One particular topic of our day which I think would benefit from this advice is that of human origins. Christians argue about the interpretation of Genesis and other Scriptures, about the acts of God’s creation and sustainment of the universe, about the evidence for macroevolution, even about the validity of scientific investigation itself. One can read literature by young-earth creationists, which asserts that modern science has many things wrong and is untrustworthy. They say that accepting evolution undermines orthodox theology.1 Others say just the contrary: that scientists do honest work, that Christians ought to embrace the theory of evolution, and that it does not compromise biblical truth.2 Both groups argue with each other in the present day, from the same temporal perspective.

To help shed more neutral light on the discussion, one could turn to theologians who wrote on Genesis and God’s creation before 1859, when Charles Darwin wrote his book, On the Origin of Species. These voices would speak from times and places that were not caught up in the modern, culture war. Considering their historical approaches would help Christians to see what they themselves may be missing in the contemporary debate. They could find new perspectives to apply, and they would be better able to recognize truth and falsehood in their dialogue partners. Indeed, C. S. Lewis’ words hold true for all people of every time and context. To take up the writings and wisdom of older Christians would prove fruitful for many on a variety of issues, and no less for those in the discussion of human origins.


1. “Evangelical Theologians Compromising with Evolution,” Answers in Genesis, Accessed September 5, 2012, http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/terry-mortenson/2010/11/29/evangelical-theologians-compromising-with-evolution/

2. “Are Science and Christianity at War?,” BioLogos, Last modifed June 27, 2012, Accessed September 5, 2012, http://biologos.org/questions/science-and-religion

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The Language of God, written by Francis S. Collins, speaks to the debate between science and faith. Collins is a physician and a geneticist, noted for his leadership in the Human Genome Project of the 1990’s, and current head of the National Institution of Health, appointed by President Barack Obama. Collins contends that what we read in Scripture is not in conflict with what we find in nature, and he writes with the hope that Christians who read it would stop bickering over the issue. He seeks harmony between science and Christianity, rather than continuing the unnecessary war (6). His book pays particular attention to the theory of evolution and powerfully demonstrates its truth. Although he touches lightly on the process of reconciling this with Scripture, he leaves Christians open to search elsewhere for deeper insight into that particular undertaking.

Collins became a Christian when reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, where he was convinced of the truth of the Moral Law. The Moral Law says human beings sense that there is a right and wrong way to behave, and we especially feel it when we are wronged by others. Biological evolution only explains mutually beneficial actions, not altruistic actions. The Moral Law points to a God outside of the natural world, Whom we cannot know through the tools of science. To Collins, faith seemed more rational than disbelief.

As someone who respects the natural world and the pursuit of truth in it, Collins spends many of his early chapters reviewing what modern science tells us of the origins of the universe and of human beings. He explains how the universe seems designed to allow life to exist (the Anthropic Principle), where physical constants (such as the speed of light, the force of gravity, etc.) are set at specific values which has allowed our universe to develop the way it has. The most reasonable conclusion from these observations is that the universe is designed by someone who created it. Collins rejects the “multiverse” theory on the basis of lack of evidence.

Collins stresses that our puny efforts to examine the complexity of life will not dethrone the Almighty. We just strive to answer the question, “How does life work?” Science alone cannot answer questions like “Why is there life?” or “Why am I here?” Using radioactivity and the natural decay of chemical isotopes, we can date moon rocks and meteorites and other debris from which the planet formed 4.55 billion years ago. The first fossils of microbial life is dated at 3.8 billion years ago. Science cannot currently explain the origin of chemical life. It is a mystery. However, don’t put God in the gaps, Collins stresses. Just because we don’t have a natural explanation for it now doesn’t mean we won’t discover it later.

Once life arose, the process of biological evolution through natural selection allowed it to diversify and become more complex. Collins gives a quick history of life on Earth, including dates from the fossil record and the discovery of transition species. He points out that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is accepted by many religious people, and “no serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution.” The subsequent discovery of DNA gave birth to molecular biology and reinforces Darwin’s theory. DNA, RNA, and proteins function as the mechanism through which natural selection occurs. This doesn’t take the divine mystery out of the world, Collins points out. “For those who believe in God, there are reasons now to be more in awe, not less.” (107)

Perhaps one of the strongest assets of Collins’ book comes from his experience as a geneticist. He moves along to flesh out the evidence for biological evolution as seen in molecular biology. As head of the Human Genome Project, Collins aimed to spell out the entire human genome: 3.1 billion letters of code across 24 chromosomes. He and his team started in the early 1990’s, and they announced its completion with President Clinton on June 26, 2000. It has reinforced biologists’ embrace of evolutionary theory, that we human beings share a common ancestry with other living things. Our gene sequence, Collins points out, is similar to that of other organisms, and it differs from them to a greater and greater extent as you move further away in the “tree of life.” Silent mutations discredit special creation, as does the presence of “junk DNA,” left over from ancient ancestors. The discovery of genetic mutation in DNA gave a new understanding to the mechanism of natural selection. Mutations in DNA are the means through which organisms evolve. While some bring up the objection that we never see evidence of macroevolution, only microevolution, Collins argues that the distinction between the two is artificial. “Larger changes that result in new species are a result of smaller incremental steps” (132). The study of genomes and molecular biology “convinced virtually all working biologists that Darwin’s framework…is unquestionably correct” (141). We couldn’t correlate all the data without the theory.

If evolution is not true, we might conclude that God just put them there to confuse us, which is not in His nature. We can conclude with evidence that God did not create all creatures through individual divine acts. That being said, Collins says he still needs God to explain us. Evolution doesn’t account for the Moral Law or the universal search for God. “Freeing God from the burden of special acts of creation does not remove Him as the source of the things that make humanity special, and of the universe itself. It merely shows us something of how He operates.” (140)

In the final chapters of his book, Collins considers four possible viewpoints in response to what we see in nature: Atheism/Agnosticism, Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Evolution. When it comes to atheism, Collins says that science can neither prove nor disprove God. If one concludes that the evidence for evolution removes God from the role of Creator, that person is moving beyond the bounds of science and into philosophy. Atheists must find another reason for taking that position. Evolution won’t do. Agnosticism should only be arrived at after full consideration of all of the evidence for and against the existence of God. At any rate, neither view seeks harmony with faith, but is at war.

Next, he turns to Creationism, specifically Young-Earth Creationists (YECs). Their views include a six-day creation (24 hours, consecutive days), that Earth is less than 10,000 years old, that all species were created by individual acts of divine creation, and that Adam and Eve were created from dust, not descended from other creatures. YECs affirm microevolution, but not macroevolution. The Young Earth view is roughly held by 45% of Americans and many evangelical churches. They object to evolution for many faulty scientific reasons. He says the YEC view and modern science are ultimately incompatible. Though the views of these Christians are well-meaning and sincere, they would lead to an absolute collapse of physics, chemistry, biology, cosmology, and geology. Collins asks if God is truly honored by those who would ignore rigorous scientific conclusions. “Can faith in Him be built on a foundation of lies about nature” (176)?

YECs attempt to provide alternative scientific explanations. Some say God set up the universe to look old to test our faith and let us rely on His Word. Collins’ argument against this was particularly persuasive to me. If the universe is really less than 10,000 years old, then the stars which are millions of light-years away shouldn’t even appear to us yet. God would have had to create photons in-transit in order for them to arrive here on Earth while we are here to see them. This ultimately makes God a “great Deceiver,” which would lead us to throw out Scripture which says that He is the God of truth. Collins pleas for believers to hold fast to the truths of the Bible and to fiercely resist materialism of atheists, but not through a flawed foundation in science. This leads to “easy wins” for opponents of faith.

Collins points out that ultra-literal interpretations of Genesis have only arisen in the last hundred years, as a consequence of evolution. Many older church fathers (such as Augustine) seemed to think that the early chapters of Genesis had a high, semi-poetical structure and feel to them. He doesn’t go into interpretations of Genesis himself, but wisely leaves that to theologians who have expertise in the matter.

When it comes to Intelligent Design (ID), Collins says that it is an unfortunate view both theologically and scientifically. It was put forth first by Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe in the early 1990’s. They propose the following: (1) evolution promotes an atheistic worldview, (2) evolution is fundamentally flawed, not able to account for biological complexity, and (3) therefore, an Intelligent Designer, God, must have intervened against the laws of nature to provide components during evolution. Collins spends time pointing out the scientific objections to Intelligent Design. Many Christian scientists as well as secular do not accept their arguments. As scientists are actually attracted to opportunities for overturning theories, the fact that the ID arguments are not gaining any holds in the scientific community should be a clue to us that they are not valid. Many of their examples of “irreducible complexity” turn out not to be irreducibly complex after all. They confuse the unknown with the unknowable and the unsolved with the unsolvable. Theologically, ID makes God a “clumsy Creator,” intervening throughout the history of evolution. ID is a “God of the gaps” theory. It’s bad for believers, because as scientists fill in the gaps over time, Christians have less ground to stand on.

Finally, Collins comes around to his beautiful conclusion, the view that puts all the pieces together and brings harmony between science and faith. The theistic evolution position is the “dominant view of serious biologists who are also serious believers.” It holds to all of the main claims of modern science:

1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.
2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe were fine-tuned for life.
3. While the mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution through natural selection led to biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time
4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.
5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.
6. Humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature, including the Moral Law and the universal search for God.

These views can be held in perfect harmony with the idea that God is transcendent and eternal, Creator of the universe and the natural laws that govern it. He chose the elegant mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all sorts. He chose it knowing it would give rise to creatures with intelligence and free will, into which He would breathe the spirit of life, endowing them with the Moral Law and a thirst for Him. This view is science compatible with faith, a view both “intellectually fulfilling and spiritually alive” (201). He points out that there are many different interpretations of Genesis and different views on how Adam and Eve would fit into the evolutionary history.

The Language of God is a breath of fresh air for Christians who are tired of the war between the anti-science religious community and the anti-religious scientific community. Collins represents a body of Christian scientists who strive to find truth in the Lord’s creation and are zealous about it. He cuts a nice balance, exhorting believers to embrace science and worship the Lord in it, but also encouraging scientists to seek the Lord and not draw philosophical conclusions from natural observations.


Collins, Francis S. (2006). The Language of God. New York: Free Press

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The BioLogos Forum has posted these articles by Dr. Timothy Keller, discussing the relationship between science and faith. You can find links to the original article at the top of each section. In writing this post, I want to highlight for myself, in particular, the order in which he addresses each topic. With so much to ask and say about this debate, how does one go about it systematically? What is most important? What should be a priority in the dialogue?

All of the ideas listed below are my paraphrases of Keller’s thoughts, summing up his ideas. My own ideas are in green.

Part 1 – Overview of the tension – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

What’s the Problem?

In this debate, so many voices say evolution and Scripture are irreconcilable. Richard Dawkins (atheist) says evolution means God is not in charge of creation. Ken Ham (Christian, Young-Earth Creationist) says evolution goes directly against a clear reading of Scripture.

Some aren’t so sure that they are irreconcilable. Peter van Inwagen (Christian philosopher) says that even if belief in God was a product of evolution, it still would not take away the reality of God Himself. In fact, it would be an ingenious way for God to install a universal search for Him in all of humanity. Science cannot prove or disprove Him.

Pastors and People

There are four main difficulties presented by evolution for orthodox Protestants.

1. Biblical authority – By accepting evolution, aren’t we letting science affect our understanding of Scripture instead of vice versa?

2. Confusion of biology and philosophy – Doesn’t believing evolution lead to a “Grand Theory of Everything” that answers life’s great “why” questions?

3. Historicity of Adam and Eve – As Christians believing evolution, don’t we have to believe Adam and Eve and the fall are merely symbolic? What about Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15?

4. Problem of evil – If death and suffering were in the world before the fall, as evolution has it, how do we reconcile this with Scripture (Genesis 3) and the idea of a good God who created a good world that human beings messed up?

Part 2 – Difficulty #1 – Biblical authority – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Question: If God used evolution, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t, then how can we take any of the Bible literally? It undermines the Bible’s authority.

Answer: To respect the authority of the Bible writers, take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally; sometimes they don’t. Listen to them; don’t impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Genre and authorial intent

Just because one part of the Bible is taken literally doesn’t mean all parts are. Ask whether the author wants to be taken literally or not. Judges 5 is Hebrew poetry of Judges 4’s historical prose narrative. Luke 1.1 makes it clear that Luke wants his account to be taken literally. Accounts like Genesis 1 and Ecclesiastes aren’t clear – there will always be debate about them.

Genre and Genesis 1

What genre is Genesis 1? Edward Young (Hebrew expert, six literal days interpretation) admits Genesis 1 has “exalted semi-poetical language” but it’s not straight poetry. There is no parallelism, like Exodus 15.

C. John Collins (analogous days interpretation) says the genre of Genesis 1 is “exalted prose narrative.” By calling it prose narrative, we acknowledge it’s making truth claims about the world in which we live. By calling it exalted, we recognize not to impose a literalistic hermeneutic on it.

In Keller’s view, the strongest argument that the author doesn’t intend a literalistic interpretation is the lack of natural order in the creative acts of Genesis 1 and 2. There is light before the sources of light are created. There is vegetation before there is atmosphere and before rain. Genesis 2.5 implies that God followed a natural order. There were no plants because God had not caused it to rain…. Genesis 1.11 also implies that God used a natural order in His creation. “Let the earth sprout vegetation…”

Keller thinks Genesis 2 can be read literally, but not Genesis 1. Thus, Genesis 1 does not teach a six 24-hour day creation. Maybe Genesis 1 is to Genesis 2 as Judges 5 is to Judges 4.

Part 3 – Difficulty #2 – Confusion of biology and philosophy – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Question: If biological evolution is true, does that mean we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No, belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a worldview.

The New Atheists insist that naturalism automatically flows from belief in biological evolution. Because of this, many Christians don’t know how to differentiate between evolutionary biological processes (EBP) and the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE). They likely hold on tightly to Young-Earth Creationism because of this.

Christians who believe in EBP as an account of origins ought to teach or explain how this differs from GTE and come together with other Christians to fight it. If you argue for EBP, you must bring up and put great emphasis on arguing against GTE. See David Atkinson’s quote in the original article.

Part 4 – Difficulty #3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Many say we should read Genesis 2 – 11 in light of other creation myths of the ancient Near East, that the biblical authors were “men of their time,” sharing ideas with other cultures. If we did this, we would read these chapters as holding general truth principles, but not as describing actual historical events.

Many ancient writers used symbolic/figurative language. Psalm 139.13: God “knit me together in my mother’s womb” – definitely figurative. Genesis 2.7: God “formed Adam from the dust of the ground” – likely figurative (compare Job 10.8-9).

Kenneth Kitchen (Christian Egyptologist) says Near Eastern societies didn’t “historicize” myths, but rather “mythologized” history. “They celebrated actual historical events and people in mythological terms.” We can conclude that Genesis 2 – 11 are “high” accounts of actual events.

Paul the apostle thought Adam and Eve and the Fall were historical. When you refuse to take him literally when he clearly wants you to, you have “moved away from the traditional understanding of Biblical authority.”

Part 5 – Difficulty #3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

Some think you can believe that Adam and Eve were symbolic, along with the Fall, of some original group of human beings. Keller thinks this is too simplistic. (I agree. Consider the above points.)

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes the point that, as Christians, we are in a covenant relationship with Christ. We get credit for what He did. This is what Paul means when he says we are “in Christ.” In the same sentence, (v. 22) he says we are similarly “in Adam.” Adam was a “covenantal” representative for the whole human race; what he did (in history) is laid to our account.

If you don’t believe what Paul believes about Adam, that he and his actions were historical, then you deny the core of Paul’s teaching. Paul’s whole argument, that both sin and grace work “covenantally,” falls apart.

This traditional view of the historicity of Adam, Eve, and the Fall, is foundational to the doctrine of original sin (including, I would say, total depravity) and equal sinfulness of the entire human race.

Part 6 – Difficulty # 3 & 4 – Historicity of Adam and Eve and the Fall – Click here for Dr. Keller’s article

This is Derek Kidner’s model of how Adam and Even can fit into an evolutionary origins account of humanity.

Job 10.8-9 makes Genesis 2.7 likely that Adam is also a product of EBP. God breathed into him the spirit of life, endowing him with the image of God. Eve was created special from Adam, followed by God breathing life into all of Adam’s collaterals (the other human beings on the planet at the time.)

Adam would still be seen as the “head” of all of these other people, and they would inherit original sin along with the rest of us (through solidarity, the “oneness” of the covenant relationship, not heredity). These people would answer the questions of Cain’s wife and the city he builds in Genesis 4, along with Genesis 2.20 and Adam’s search for a wife.

There are several factors that imply the world was not perfectly good before the Fall. The darkness and chaos of Genesis 1.2, Satan’s presence in the garden, the need for humans to work (Gen 1.28) and eat (Gen 2.9) meant that the original creation was not perfect. When Romans 8 says that nature groans under the weight of corruption, it would mean that it is disintegrating as a result of humans not being good stewards (because of their hate for God.) The Fall primarily brought spiritual death to human beings.

Still, perhaps Adam and Eve were given conditional immortality as a foretaste of heaven.

There are many other models of how Adam and Eve could fit into the evolutionary account of origins. Keller’s main argument is that he wants us to be “bigger tents” than the anti-scientific religious community and the anti-religious scientific community. He argues that belief in a historical Adam and Eve is extremely important, but that there are several ways to hold this view while also holding a belief in evolutionary biological processes.

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Richard Dawkins (2006), in The God Delusion, makes the claim that “God almost certainly does not exist” (p. 189). He argues that we have enough scientific and philosophical understanding to reject belief in God, that it is a delusion. We can be “happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled” atheists (p. 23). He writes this book in the hope that religious folk who pick it up “will be atheists when they put it down” (p. 28). In addition to deeming religion a delusion, he also suggests that it is the cause of many problems in the world and that we should strive to educate ourselves out of it. I write this review to analyze Dawkins’ arguments from a Christian perspective.

Dawkins makes the point that religion has traditionally carried out four roles for humanity: explanation, exhortation, consolation, and inspiration (p. 389). Most of Dawkins’ book deals with explanation (how we and our universe have come to exist) and exhortation (how we ought to behave.)  My review responds to his arguments involving our explanation, as it most interests me and is what I am most knowledgeable about. Although I have objections to Dawkins’ other points, such as that the Bible is not a reliable document, that evolution explains our thirst for God and our sense of morality, I will not address them here.

Explanation: How we and our universe have come to exist

Biological life looks designed. Giraffes have long necks to reach food in the treetops. Monkeys have opposable thumbs to grip tree branches. Bats send out ultrasound signals to locate their prey in absolute darkness. Historically, this apparent design in nature was an argument for God’s existence. If something looks designed, it must have a designer. William Paley was one of the main proponents of this natural theology (Giberson, 2008, p. 22).  The leading scientists of his day, Charles Darwin among them, were influenced by this idea.

Since science offered no explanation of how all of the plants and animals of the Earth had come to exist, most leading scientists were believers in God who designed them. Darwin himself had a belief in God and saw the world through the lens of natural theology (p. 22).

Likewise, the universe looks designed and fine-tuned to allow life to exist. It had a beginning about 13.7 billion years ago, say cosmologists, in an event called the Big Bang. The rate of expansion of the universe allowed galaxies to form (too fast and they wouldn’t have, too slow and the universe would have collapsed in on itself). Gravity is of the ideal strength to allow stars to form and maintain long enough lives to let life develop on orbiting planets. The Earth is in a “Goldilocks” zone, a perfect distance from the sun, not too far away nor too close for life to exist. These qualities, and others like them, lead to the idea that the universe is designed for life. And if it is designed, it must have a designer: God.

Dawkins’ view

(1) Evolution makes God unnecessary as the Creator of animal and plant species. Dawkins argues that the theory of evolution explains the diversity and complexity of life so well that God’s role as Creator is diminished. Slow, gradual degrees of change from simple organisms to complex ones, evolving to adapt to environments, produce creatures that look designed. This natural selection is “an ingenious and powerful crane” that explains the diversity and complexity of life better than the God hypothesis (p. 188). We don’t need a supernatural explanation, because we have a natural explanation.

(2) God is too complex to be a good cause of the universe. As we study the history of life on our planet, we see animals evolve from simple beings to complex beings. Life-forms with a few, basic parts evolve into life-forms with many, intricate parts. Likewise, a universe with basic beginnings of particles and forces has organized itself into a universe of galaxy clusters, binary star systems, and planets hospitable to life. Everything that we see has a cause, and the cause is simple.

Therefore, says Dawkins, when we move back to the beginning of the universe, we should expect to find a simple explanation for it. God is not this explanation, he says, because God is complex. To look at the design of the universe and say that there must be a God who started it creates a bigger problem than it solves. God is a super-intelligent mind able to invent worlds, breathe life into matter, listen to millions of prayers simultaneously, etc. That is a complex being. Complex beings require an explanation. But who designed God? Where did He come from? The existence of such a complex, supernatural being is more improbable than the universe He attempts to explain, says Dawkins (p. 138).

(3) There are probably natural explanations of the origin of life and of the universe. Dawkins thinks it more likely that there is a natural explanation for the cause of the life, rather than a complex, supernatural one. Although it has not been discovered yet, a chemical process of life-forms materializing out of the contents of a primordial soup is certainly plausible. It would be a rare occurrence, but consider the vastness of the universe. There are so many planets. A billion billion is Dawkins’ conservative estimate, that is 1 with 18 zeroes after it. Even if one in a billion planets had the right properties to initiate life, that would still leave us with one billion hospitable planets. Out of these one billion with the right conditions, it’s not so inconceivable that life actually forms and sustains itself on at least one or two of them (p. 165). In fact, we know it’s conceivable, because, here we are!

Likewise, our life-friendly universe is not so unbelievable when looking at it from this perspective of probabilities (deemed the “Anthropic Principle”). Dawkins likes Martin Rees’ suggestion that our universe is one of many inside a sort of multiverse, “co-existing like bubbles of foam” (p. 173). Out of an enormously vast number of universes, each with its own set of natural laws, it is not so unlikely that one or two would end up with laws that are favorable to life. In fact, we know it’s likely because we are in one.

The multiverse would be simple. It would be huge, yes. But it would only be governed by the four natural laws that our own universe is governed by. This is a more plausible explanation and is easier to believe in than a complex God (p. 189).

My view

(1) Evolution does not make God unnecessary as the Creator of animal and plant species. God is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe. He started it and He keeps it going. Our existence and that of the universe is radically dependent upon Him. “[All of reality] is in existence only so long as God creates and sustains it…. Were He to withdraw His creative power, the universe would be annihilated in the blink of an eye.” (Craig, 2010). God, however, is the only completely independent being in the universe. His existence depends on no one and nothing. He is self-existent (Craig, 2010).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25, English Standard Version).

Even if we have laws of physics and scientific explanations for natural phenomena, it is God who determined them from the beginning. He controls everything that goes on inside the universe. Sometimes He uses supernatural intervention to defy the laws of nature, what we would call miracles: raising the dead, healing the blind, etc.

Most of the time He controls it without intervening. In this sense, God is in and behind everything that goes on, but it looks completely natural. Natural events occur because He intends them to: either He wants them to happen or He permits them to happen. Their existence is radically dependent on God’s sustaining power.

So when human scientists discover natural explanations for things, they are discovering how God has set up the universe to function. They are watching God do His work. The implication of this is that every natural phenomenon will have a natural cause, but it is a cause that God began and upholds. The fact that there is a natural explanation does not deny God’s role.

John Walton (2009), an Old Testament scholar at Wheaton College, puts it nicely when it comes to the relationship between the natural and supernatural. He says “I can affirm with the psalmist that God ‘knit me together in my mother’s womb’ without denying the premises of embryology” (p. 140).

Now, back to evolution. The theory of evolution offers a natural explanation for the diversity and complexity of plant and animal species. Dawkins would say that since we have this natural explanation, we don’t need God as an explanation anymore. This view misunderstands God’s role.

God works in and behind the evolution of species throughout time. He intended for a variety of plants and animals to come into being, and they did (Genesis 1:11-12; 20-21; 24-27). Thus, God is a necessary explanation of the origin of animal and plant species. The theory of evolution is a human attempt to explain how God carried it out.

(2) God’s nature makes Him a good explanation as the cause of the universe. Dawkins says that if God created the universe, then we’re left with the problem of God’s origin. Who designed Him? Where did He come from? However, these questions misunderstand God’s nature.

If He created the universe, that is, space, matter, and time, then He must exist outside of it. Therefore, He is timeless, immaterial, and without spatial dimension. His timelessness is what we mean when we say He is eternal. And if He exists outside of time, then the law of cause and effect is not applicable to Him, as it is a physical law, implying change and the passage of time. He does not change. Therefore, theologians are right to say that God is uncaused and does not need an explanation of origin. He always has been, is, and will be.

God, being God, must exist. If we imagine a god who began existing at a certain point, then we are imagining something that, by definition, is not God. Wayne Grudem (1994) affirms this, saying, “All else can pass away in an instant; [God] necessarily exists forever” (p. 162).

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

Dawkins is also mistaken to assume that just because God can bring forth complex creatures and think profound thoughts, He must be complex in Himself. He repeatedly brings up his fascination in a God who would be able to listen to millions of prayers simultaneously, which supposedly demonstrates His complexity. However, theologians note that, while God has many attributes, they are all unified into one, whole being. God is not composed of parts. If God were a material being, inside of space and time, He would need to be physically and mentally complex indeed, to be able to genuinely listen to and answer each prayer. As He is, all-knowing and powerful, immaterial and timeless, this does not take any effort for Him. Grudem agrees, “God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act” (190).

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” (Psalm 139:1-2).

God’s other attributes, His will, His omnipotence, and His self-sufficiency, easily account for the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and, ultimately, the origin of our species.

(3) Natural explanations of the origin of life and of the universe will still depend on God. That brings us back to Dawkins’ subscription to the multiverse theory and the Anthropic Principle to explain the origin of life on Earth. Dawkins’ use of the theory lets him reject God’s role. We can trust the numbers of the probabilities, he says, which give us confidence in a natural explanation, which we should strive to discover. And if there is a natural explanation, then there is no supernatural explanation. Yet, reminiscent of my point in #1, even if there is a natural explanation, it occurs because God determines and upholds it.

In conclusion, I have argued that God is the primary explanation for the existence of the universe and everything in it. When we adopt scientific explanations to natural phenomena, we merely attempt to explain how God has set up the universe to function. Scientific truth is God’s truth. When we understand science rightly, there will be “no final conflict” between science and Scripture (Schaeffer, as cited in Grudem, p. 275).

“If God is the Creator of all the universe, if God had a specific plan for the arrival of humankind on the scene, and if He had a desire for personal fellowship with humans, into whom He had instilled the Moral Law as a signpost toward Himself, then He can hardly be threatened by the efforts of our puny minds to understand the grandeur of His creation” (Collins, 2006, p. 230).

“We should not fear to investigate scientifically the facts of the created world but should do so eagerly and with complete honesty, confident that when facts are rightly understood, they will always turn out to be consistent with God’s inerrant words in Scripture. Similarly, we should approach the study of Scripture eagerly and with confidence that, when rightly understood, Scripture will never contradict facts in the natural world” (Grudem, p. 275).

“We must not, then, as Christians, assume an attitude of antagonism toward the truths of reason, or the truths of philosophy, or the truths of science, or the truths of history, or the truths of criticism. As children of the light, we must be careful to keep ourselves open to every ray of light. Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it, whithersoever it leads” (Warfield, as cited in Collins, 2006).


Collins, Francis S. (2006). The Language of God. New York: Free Press

Craig, William Lane. (2010, March 10). Doctrine of God [#2]. Defenders Podcast – Series 2. Podcast retrieved from http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Defender_podcast/Defenders2_DoctrineofGod2.mp3

Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion. Great Britain: Bantam Press.

Giberson, Karl W. (2008). Saving Darwin. New York: HarperOne

Grudem, Wayne. (1994). Systematic Theology. Great Britain: Intervarsity Press & Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Walton, John H. (2009). The Lost World of Genesis One. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic

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The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view:

Genesis is ancient cosmology, inspired by God, written by human beings to Israel, who had an ancient understanding of the world and the universe. It does not update this understanding, but speaks its message with their terminology and science.

In the ancient Near East culture, the fact that God created the material world was such an unquestioned idea that it did not concern them. It was not a priority. They were, however, concerned with what function and purpose He gave to the material world and how. This, to them, was existence. This was creation. Therefore, the Genesis account is not one of material origin. It is one of functional origin.

The cosmos are God’s temple, created for Him to rest in: to dwell in and carry out His authority. The creation of a temple involves the setting up of its functions and the entrance of God’s presence. The seven days of Genesis 1 refer to this inauguration.</div>

  • The Hebrew word translated “create” (bara) concerns assigning functions.
  • The account begins in verse 2 with no functions, rather than no material.
  • The first three days pertain to the three major functions of life: time, weather, food.
  • Days four to six pertain to functionaries in the cosmos being assigned their roles and spheres.
  • The recurring comment that “it is good” refers to functionality (relative to people.)
  • The temple aspect is evident in the climax of day seven when God rests – an activity in a temple.

<div style=”text-indent: 20px;”>Even though Genesis is not an account of material origin, it is still biblical and theologically correct to believe Him the originator of all material. Genesis is simply not this account. (See Colossians 1.16-17, Hebrews 1.2, 11.3 for material origin.)

As the Bible does not give a scientific account of material origin, the Christian is free to follow the evidence where it leads. They should be leaders in their fields of biology, cosmology, anthropology, paleontology, etc. to give sound and biblical interpretation of it.

Science cannot prove or disprove God. Although as Christians, we believe that God is in and behind every natural law, creating and sustaining our world, we would be bad scientists and bad Christians to say that the evidence proved this. Likewise, although atheists believe that there is nothing behind the natural laws, they would be bad scientists to say that the evidence proved it.


The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton

The Language of God by Francis Collins

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