Rick Phillips – Is Evolution Biblically Acceptable? The Question of Genesis 1

Posted On January 23, 2015

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Given what World Magazine has called a “major, well-funded push” to promote the acceptance of evolution among evangelical Christians, the case must be persuasively made against the compatibility of evolution and the Bible. In answer to this pro-evolutionary stance, I am one of those Bible teachers who believe that the implications of evolution involve sweeping changes to the Christian faith and life.

While I appreciate the moderate spirit of many who want to find a way to accept evolution alongside the Bible, I find that the more radical voices are here more helpful. For instance, I share the view of Peter Enns in the conclusion to his book The Evolution of Adam, writing that “evolution… cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on,”[1] but requires a fundamental rethinking of doctrines pertaining to creation, humanity, sin, death, and salvation. But Christian ethics must also be revised. Enns writes that under evolution “some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful,” including “sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one’s gene pool,” should now be thought of as beneficial. Even so foundational an issue as the Christian view of death must be remolded by evolution. An evolution-embracing Christian faith must now see death as an ally: “the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet.”[2]

I am not a qualified scientist and have virtually nothing to contribute to the science involved in evolution. As a Bible teacher and theologian, my concern is the necessary beliefs that flow from the Word of God. For the ultimate issue involved with evolution is biblical authority: must the Bible submit to the superior authority of secularist dogma? Or may the believer still confess together with Paul: “Let God be true though everyone were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). From this perspective, I plan a short series of articles arguing against the idea that evolution is biblically acceptable.

Evolution vs. Genesis 1

The first topic to consider is our reading of Genesis 1. It is frankly admitted by evolution supporters that anything like a literal reading of Genesis 1 rules out evolutionary theory. As Tim Keller wrote for Biologos: “To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal.” I would alter that somewhat, since the issue really is not the absolute literalness of everything we read in Genesis. Rather the question is whether or not Genesis 1 is a historical narrative that intends to set forth a sequence of events. Evolution requires that Genesis 1 is teaching theology but not teaching history. But is this an acceptable categorization of Genesis 1?

First, though, does an historical Genesis 1 rule out evolution? The answer is Yes. Consider Genesis 1:21, which records that God created species by means of direct, special creation: “God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.” These “kinds” are species, which did not evolve from lower forms but were specially created by God. This special creation is highlighted in the case of the highest creature, man: “God created man in his own image; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). If these verses are presenting a record of history, it is a history radically at odds with the history posed by evolutionary theory.

This raises the question as to the genre of Genesis 1. Literary scholars teach the widely accepted view that different kinds of literature cue different reading expectations. So what is the genre of Genesis 1? According to those who support evolution, Genesis 1 functions as a poetic rather than historical genre. The argument is that Genesis 1 employs highly stylized language and a repetitive structure. Keller’s white paper argues that Genesis 1 is like the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15 or the Song of Deborah in Judges 5. It corresponds to more historical chapters by presenting a poetic rendition that must not be taken as the history itself. Just as Exodus 14 tells the history of the Red Sea crossing, followed by the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, so does Genesis 1 relate to the more historically acceptable version of Genesis 2 (a subject that will be treated in a later article). Given this poetic form, Genesis 1 may be ruled out as teaching historical events.

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