Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
Denis Lamoureux’s goal in this book is to demonstrate that Christians in general and conservative Christians in particular should have no hesitation in accepting evolution as a potentially complete scientific account of the origin and development of biological life. Lamoureux’s view would be described usually as “theistic evolution” but Lamoureux objects to this description of his position on the basis that such a “word arrangement places the process of evolution as the primary term and makes the Creator secondary as only a qualifying adjective” (30). He prefers instead the term “evolutionary creation.” He notes that
evolutionary creationists … are thoroughly committed and unapologetic creationists. They believe that the universe is a creation that is absolutely dependent for its every instant of existence on the will and grace of the Creator. The qualifying word in this category is the adjective evolutionary, indicating the method through which God created the world (30).
Whether one prefers the term “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation,” the central claim of this position is that
as the Ordainer and Sustainer of the cosmos, the Creator did not intervene in origins nor does He act dramatically in [its] operations. Rather, “as a loving Father,” He reserves direct and dramatic interventions for personal relationships in order to admonish, call, and encourage us (62).
Lamoureux argues that evolutionary creationism, so defined, is consistent with a hermeneutically responsible interpretation of Christian Scripture. He employs what he terms the “Message-Incident Principle.” Put simply, this principle instructs us “to separate the Message of Faith from the incidental ancient science [in which it is transported], and not to conflate these together” [Lamoureux’s emphasis] (146).” Thus, for example,
Gen 3 uses an ancient understanding of the causal origin of labor pain as an incidental vessel to deliver an infallible Message of Faith: God judges human sin. Stated concisely, divine judgmental action for the sin of Eve might be filtered through ancient medical categories [Lamoureux’s emphasis] (146).
Lamoureux sees this Principle as foundational for interpreting Scripture’s references to nature. The intention of God in Scripture is not to confirm the truth of ancient science but rather, accommodating Himself to the (mis)understanding of the physical world held by those whom He addresses, to reveal timeless spiritual truth. Once this Principle is adopted it can be seen that “inerrancy and infallibility rest in the spiritual truths of Scripture instead of its views on the structure and operation of the physical world” (147).
The use of this Principle, he argues, should not be viewed as problematic, since it parallels features of the Incarnation. In addition to being fully human, that is to say a first-century Jewish male embedded in a particular culture using a particular language, Jesus was also fully divine, revealing in himself the depths of God’s love for humanity. Lamoureux writes,
the correspondence [of the doctrine of the Incarnation] to the Message-Incident Principle is obvious. The Message of Faith is the inerrant and infallible timeless Word of God, while the incidental ancient science features less than perfect historically conditioned words of humans. This approach has a significant implication for the origins debate. Biblical inerrancy and infallibility do not extend to the statements in Scripture about how God created the world, but that He created. …Knowledge of the divine creative method is not ultimately relevant to Christian faith [Lamoureux’s emphasis] (173-174).
Lamoureux makes clear that evolutionary creation embraces gradual polygenism: “the origin of [the] spiritual characteristics that define and distinguish humanity is not marked by a single punctiliar event in history … there never was an Adam/s or Eve/s” (290-91). This means that Augustine’s doctrine of original sin – Lamoureux notes that the category of “original sin” is not found in the Bible – must be reformulated. In an evolutionary creationist view, “original sin was manifested mysteriously and gradually over countless many generations during the evolutionary processes leading to men and women” (292). The doctrine of original sin should not be thought to provide a complete theodicy, and in particular, it should not be viewed as the explanation of physical suffering and death. Lamoureux notes the development of theodicy in Scripture. In Genesis sin is understood as the cause of suffering and death, but in Job this explanation is viewed as inadequate, and in his teaching Jesus makes clear that there is a relation between sin and spiritual death but no necessary connection between sin and physical suffering and death (299-300). Rather, physical suffering and death need to be understood in the context of a wider teleology that is revealed in the intricacy of creation and, most fully, in the light of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection. Lamoureux makes the observation that
theology develops through Scripture. . . . The theodicy in Gen 1-11 is the beginning of the revelatory process on this issue. In other words, the final word on theodicy, like offerings and sacrifices, is not found in the opening chapters of the Bible, but rather in the fulfilling light of Jesus’ suffering and death. (268)
One of Lamoureux’s central themes – perhaps the central theme – is that it is a mistake to interpret Genesis 1-11 as revealing scientific and historical truth concerning origins and human history. He terms such a position “scientific and historical concordism” and cautions that it should be distinguished from the concept of biblical infallibility. He argues that the mistaken conflation of these views “has led to a categorical blind spot in the mind of [many]Christians that inhibits them from envisioning how God could create the world, including humanity, through evolution” (18). Genesis 1-11 employs the scientific and historical categories that were current at the time of its writing. In Lamoureux’s view, these categories are incidental to the central theological truths revealed in the opening chapters of the Bible. He writes,
the intention of these chapters [Genesis 1-11] is to start the process of revealing God and His unconditional love for all of us. Biblical inerrancy and infallibility reside in the theological statements disclosed by the Holy Spirit. . . . The ancient science and ancient history in Genesis 1-11 are incidental vessels that delivereternal spiritual truths. (19)
Lamoureux makes a strong case that scientific and historical concordism as regards the early chapters of Genesis is unnecessary and bound to fail. Those who wish to dispute such an assertion will have to come to terms with his careful and detailed arguments to the contrary.
Less convincing is Lamoureux’s unquestioned assumption that the only reason Christians question evolution is their commitment to a hermeneutically naive scientific and historical concordism in interpreting the early chapters of Genesis. Thus, for example, we find him writing that “a personal commitment to scientific concordism forces young earth creationists and progressive creationists to reject biological evolution” and “the failure to identify . . . incidental ancient taxonomy in Gen 1 is the basis for the rejection of biological evolution by young earth creation and progressive creation” (197). This assumption is unfortunate for several reasons.
It ignores the fact that not all Christians question evolution on the basis of a scientific and historical concordist reading of Genesis 1-11. Jay Richards and Michael Behe, for example, are both former theistic evolutionists who have come to question evolution on scientific grounds. It also has the unfortunate tendency to focus discussion on psychological motives rather than actual arguments. Whatever the motive Christians (and others) may have in questioning the adequacy of natural causes to produce and develop – without any super-natural intervention during the process – the varieties of biological life inhabiting the earth should be irrelevant to assessing whether they give good scientific reasons to support their view. Further, demonstrating the inadequacies of a rival position does not confirm one’s own position automatically. One does not, for example, have to subscribe to young earth creationism’s view of the age of the earth, its claim of a universal flood, or its literalist reading of the early chapters of Genesis to see merit in some of its criticisms of the theory of evolution.
A second weakness of Lamoureux’s position is the analogy he wishes to draw between embryological development and the origin of humans. He writes that
in order to explain their origins position, Christian evolutionists begin by pointing out the remarkable parallels between evolution and human embryological development. They argue that God’s action in the creation of each person individually is similar to His activity in the origin of every part of the world collectively. . . . No Christian believes that while in his or her mother’s womb the Lord came out of heaven and dramatically intervened to attach a nose, set an eye, or bore an ear canal. Rather, everyone understands embryological development to be an uninterrupted natural process that God subtly maintains during pregnancy. In the same way, evolutionary creationists assert that dramatic divine interventions were not employed in the creation of the cosmos and living organisms, including people. (30-31)
This seems to suggest that Lamoureux is committed to the person being a wholly material entity, an impression strengthened by the fact that his index makes no reference to the concept of a soul. He has made clear elsewhere, however, that this is not his view, that he is a soul-body dualist.1 Embryological development may explain the development of the human body without any reference to divine intervention, but it is far from clear that it accounts for the origin of the human soul. Assuming that one is committed to the existence of immaterial souls, it is plausible to think that each soul is directly created by God. If this is indeed the case, then the suggestion that the formation of the human person in the womb is analogous to the development of the universe would seem to argue for interventive acts by God rather than the reverse. Given that Lamoureux wants to hold to the reality of the human soul, he needs to offer some account of how this is consistent with the physicalist account of the person that his thorough going commitment to an evolutionary account of the development of humans seems to require. His invocation of the category of “mystery” and his suggestion that “the creaturely epistemological condition of humans [cannot] grasp fully the “interface” between the physical [the human body?] and the metaphysical [the soul?]2 amount to an evasion of the issue rather than a solution. However mysterious the interface between a physical body and an immaterial soul is conceived to be, the positing of such an interface tells against Lamoureux’s embryological analogy.
Finally, Lamoureux is far too dismissive of gap arguments. He writes that, “instead ofthe gaps in nature getting wider with the advance of science, they have always been closedor filled by the growing body of scientific knowledge” (61) and goes on to assert that claims that there are gaps in naturalistic accounts of biological origins that are due to God’s direct intervention in nature would disrupt and destroy science, since such claims would “arrest immediately any research into the natural processes that led to their origin” (61-62).
These are familiar but naive charges.3 If the progress of science can conceivably close gaps, then it can conceivably emphasize their existence. Thus, for example, our increased knowledge has made it harder, not easier, to account for the origin of life purely in terms of the operation of natural causes. It is simply not the case that the gaps in our understanding of biological or cosmic origins “have always been closed or filled by the growing body of scientific knowledge” (61). Neither is it the case that taking seriously the claim that gaps in attempted naturalistic accounts of the origin and development of life are due to God’s interventive activity would destroy science. Competing hypotheses are scarcely unknown in science. Taking seriously the hypothesis that further scientific investigation will emphasize the inadequacy of purely natural causes to fill gaps in our understanding of biological origins hardly implies that research cannot continue regarding the possibility of demonstrating that a plausible naturalistic account of such origins can be given. Also unfortunate in this context is Lamoureux’s suggestion that a world in which God intervenes in the process of life’s origin and development is somehow deficient (27). Such a suggestion seems analogous to suggesting that an aquarium is deficient if it cannot generate fish. Neither is it the case that belief in God is necessarily predicated on there being gaps in nature or that those who believe in gaps due to divine intervention think that such intervention is the only way God accomplishes His purposes.
Much more could be said regarding Evolutionary Creationism but space does not permit. Suffice it to say that this is a book that deserves a wide readership. Lamoureux offers an impressively argued position of how one can embrace a thorough going evolutionism, and yet remain faithful to the authority of Christian Scripture. Those who disagree will need to come to grips with his arguments.
Cite this article
- Denis O. Lamoureux, “Robert A. Larmer on Intelligent Design: An Evolutionary Creationist Critique,”Christian Scholar’s Review 32.1 (Fall 2007): 79.
- Ibid., footnote 8.
- See, for example, Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany,New York: SUNY Press, 2001); and Robert Larmer, “Is there Anything Wrong with ‘God of the Gaps’Reasoning?,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52 (2002): 129-142.