I’m delighted to get the chance to teach at one of my favorite local churches in about a week. The topic will be Genesis 1:1 and what is, in many ways, the most important verse of Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I’ll be talking about some things we can know with certainty (related to God’s creative work in the universe and in biological organisms) and some things that we know with a bit less certainty (as I review many of the ways Christians have interpreted Genesis 1 through the ages). While I am respectful of some of the efforts to understand precisely what Moses was trying to communicate in this text, there is one view of creation that I find difficult to accept. From my perspective, theistic evolution appears to be a contradiction in terms.
I’m not the first person to notice this, but I’d like to explain why so many of us have difficulty embracing this view of creation from a simple survey of the definitions. When scientists and theologians are allowed to define their own respective terms, they provide definitions that seem diametrically opposed. The textbook definitions illustrate the problem:
ev·o·lu·tion [ev-uh-loo-shuhn] “Change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift.”
The changes occurring as a result of evolution are caused by three forms of unguided (or random) interaction (mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift). The unguided nature of these mutations (and the environmental circumstances that come to bear on them) is foundational to the definition of evolution. This quality of randomness is incompatible with a theistic view of the universe. Theists believe an all-powerful Creator is engaged in the process that brought everything into existence. This creative Being actually creates stuff and the act of “creating” is not an unguided process:
cre·ate [kree-eyt] “To cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes.”
The definition calls for a unique and specific creative act of guidance that is specifically differentiated from an evolutionary or “ordinary” (“natural”) process. This aspect of guided creativity is foundational to the nature of the Being proposed by Theists. The problem, therefore, seems to arise with any attempt to synthesize or unify these two divergent terms. Think about it for a minute; theism is all about guided creation, evolution is all about unguided causation. When we put the two ideas together, it’s the equivalent of saying:
“The creatively guided, specific, process of unguided, random causation”
See the problem? In order for this term to make any sense at all, someone needs to modify or surrender their term. Evolution has to take on an aspect of guidance and direction, or theistic creativity has to allow for the random lack of guidance. I doubt that either side is willing to compromise on the very attributes that lie at the foundation of their claims. So while there may be a number of ways to interpret the precise meaning of the Genesis account, I doubt that theistic evolution is one of them.