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Theistic evolution holds that God used evolution to create mankind. It seems to follow then that this view must also hold the creation account in Genesis to be unhistorical. So, Adam and Eve may have been people, but were perhaps the first humans whose parents were pre-human.

According to those who reject it, what are the theological implications or problems with theistic evolution?

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Related: Can I believe in evolution and still be a Christian? specifically see software monkey's answer, which discusses this question – aceinthehole Mar 31 '12 at 17:09
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If you are looking at an evolution basis, then I cannot think of a sane way of taking Adam and Eve as literal "first Human" individuals. Evolution is an very slow and gradual process; there is no "suddenly Human" - just "ever so slightly human that the last few hundred generations". It also hasn't ended! – Marc Gravell Mar 31 '12 at 19:47
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Theistic Evolution Christians generally hold the Adam & Eve stories to be parabolic. That is, a parable: true but not literal. – RBarryYoung Apr 17 '12 at 18:06
    
Population dynamics disagrees with you on a point: "Species" has fuzzy boundaries. As such, there was no human whose parents were non-human. – Kaz Dragon Aug 17 '12 at 13:51
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Answers in Genesis writes about this topic a lot. Their primary arguments are:

  1. The Genesis narrative seems to be written as a historical one, and not allegorical. Adam and Eve are treated as historical figures, having offspring, a genealogy, and death. Thus treating it otherwise would be poor hermeneutics.
  2. The Genesis account of the order of things created is different from the evolutionary account.
  3. In the Biblical account, death enters the world as a result of sin, specifically Adam's sin (Romans 5:12-21). In the evolutionary account, death must precede man. This view is argued to undermine the nature of the fall of man, and thus the redemption of Christ.
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IMO, the only valid point is point three. – fredsbend Aug 2 '14 at 16:19
    
The relevance of point 2 requires elaboration. If one accepts Moses as author of Genesis, then consider important aspects of his experience. The plagues against Egypt were to demonstrate the superiority of Yahweh over the idols and elements of nature worshiped by the Egyptians. Among the elements worshiped were the Sun, Moon, Stars, and the Nile. The Creation account shows God giving light to the Earth before the sun, God keeping time before the Sun, Moon and Stars, and God creating and distributing the waters of the world. The ordering of the events in Genesis better demonstrates this. – Paul Chernoch May 23 at 22:05

The theological problem with holding this view stems from Gen 1:26 & 27 (NLT)

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Human beings that evolved would hold a value less than what this verse implies.

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Not necessarily. Theistic evolution would still allow that God took some extra measures in Man's case, to the point of even directing the evolution of other animals so that man would be in God's image. – Joel Coehoorn Mar 30 '12 at 16:16
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I don't see how your last sentence follows from that at all. We're either in the Christian god's image or we're not; how we got there doesn't change that. – Chelonian Mar 30 '12 at 16:45
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God's image must not necessarily mean physical image. We only live in 3 spatial and 1 temporal dimensions, how can we know how many dimensions God has? Imagine if you are a computer programmer, that you write a program and make it sentient. How can you explain to that program what differentiates it from all the others? You can say that you created it in your image: it is sentient just like you are. That does not mean it has two eyes and two hands, these words are meaningless. Talking about theistic evolution, what if you used genetical algorithms or metaprogramming to write that program? ;) – vsz Mar 30 '12 at 16:52
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@ashansky That belief is fetishistic; that two objects, currently identical in all properties, are not actually identical because the process that created them was different. Many people think/feel this way; I happen not to. I buy generic pharmaceuticals. – Chelonian Mar 30 '12 at 18:30
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You need to provide more reasoning for "a value less", in the question body, for this to be a decent answer. A counterexample: "I tweaked things for thirteen billion years to produce you" sounds like a lot more care was taken (and thus the result was more valued) than, "Oh, one day I decided to create you, and poof! there you were." Hence, an argument is needed. – Rex Kerr Mar 31 '12 at 11:50

This is something I've come to understand better over the last year. To understand how I got there, let's first take a little side-trip.

The Nature of God

Think about who God is: the ultimate being, the creator of the universe, all powerful, all knowing, all encompassing. As humans, we cannot possibly begin to understand such a being: his motives, plans, or desires. We have only three ways to understand Him: those limited aspects revealed to use through the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and through studying His creation.

In Scripture, God reveals to us ultimate outcomes regarding our behaviors, attitudes, and loyalties. On the one hand, we can align with God and attempt to live the kind of life modeled for us through Jesus in scripture; the outcome is heaven. On the other hand, we can do whatever we want without regard for God; the outcome here is hell, even if doing whatever we want results in living as a "good" person.

But what if God's lying? God has the same moral obligation to us that we would to a small colony of ants, because we are so insignificant by comparison. In fact, it's even less than that, because without God our little "ant colony" lives would never exist in the first place. It would not be immoral for him to use us as pawns in some sort of cosmic game beyond our understanding. How are we to know that we have any hope at all beyond this life? That anything revealed in scripture will last?

Thankfully, scripture also addresses this issue, if indirectly. In scripture, God is carefully presented over and over and over as a being that keeps his promises, and deals only in truth... often even across generations and hundreds of years.

Genesis and Faith

So back to the question. Genesis is understood by a great many Christians to be God's personal account, revealed to Moses, of what He did at Creation. If God lied to Moses, it undermines everything else we understand about who He is. If God lied to Moses here, is he also lying about what happens after we die? As 1 Cor 15 says, if our hopes depend on an "if" such as this, we are to be pitied. Can we be sure any longer that there's any advantage to remaining a loyal Christian? Genesis needs to be an honest account of Creation, or everything else begins to unravel.

That should cover the actual question. Theistic Evolution creates theological problems because it can undermine the whole of everything else Christianity asks you to believe. It is possible to go through your whole life believing in Theistic Evolution and a fully allegorical account, but it forces you take a piece of scripture that is seemingly written to be literal and interpret it in an allegorical way, and this can erode Faith over time.

Implications

How do we resolve the seemingly-strong naturalistic evidence for Evolution with the seemingly literal Creation account? There are a few options.

The first is we believe in a God who is big enough to "fake" the evolution evidence, as another kind of cosmic joke. I think most Christians believe God has that kind of power and more. However, this again falls outside of what we understand of His nature, and would undermine Faith no less than would simple Theistic Evolution. God could do this, but I don't know many who believe that is what actually happened.

The second option is Moses lied, or at least misunderstood things. This is tempting, but it doesn't get us very far because most Christians also believe Scripture to be inspired. If Moses lied, and the lie was allowed to remain part of scripture, this again undermines much of the rest of what we believe.

Another possibility is the naturalistic evidence for Evolution is wrong, incomplete, badly-misinterpreted, or some combination thereof. Any real scientist needs to admit to this possibility, as that is what makes science, science; there is no such thing as "settled science." Personally, I think there is some of this, but that it's not the whole story. For example, if you carefully read the Genesis account you see that order of Creation is incredibly close to the order of Evolution... but not an exact match. It would not surprise me that at some point in the future new fossil finds will require the Theory of Evolution to adjust the proposed order to match Genesis, or that such fossils may have once existed but are now lost to us forever.

A fourth possibility is a historically flawed literal reading of the Genesis creation account. I've covered this in a few other answers, but it comes down to the biblical definition of the word "day". We often take the sections that read "and evening came, and morning. The [Nth] day" and apply the modern 24-hour definition to that section. We forget that the ancient Jews had a very specific definition of day: the time from sunrise to sunset. Given the complete lack of a sun for the first several days of creation, it now opens the possibility for an account that strays more to the allegorical, because the "normal" (for the initial audience) literal definition of day had no meaning yet. For that matter, even the "modern" definition is not really 24 hours, but rather the time for the Earth to complete a rotation with respect to the sun, a timespan which is again hard to define when the sun does not even exist yet. This is a position that definitely encourages at least a limited Theistic Evolution.

Of course, this is not a completed position. There are still elements of the Creation account that cry out to be read literally. What about the 2nd half of the first week, after there was a Sun for use in marking days? The Creation of Man? Cain and Abel and other early humans? At the moment, I don't have a completed answer. What I do have is Faith.

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Can you back up the assertion that "most Christians" understand Genesis to be "God's personal account, revealed to Moses, of what He did at Creation"? I'd like to see the statistics (and not just for the U.S.) on this. – Bruce Alderman Aug 17 '12 at 18:27
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@BruceAlderman You're right: I can't authoritatively say "most", and I doubt anyone has ever run a statistically valid survey. However, I've read enough in this area and heard enough thoughts and opinions from a wide variety of denominations and fellowships to confidently say "a great many", and will edit accordingly. – Joel Coehoorn Aug 17 '12 at 19:36

Introduction

This answer will examine the theological implications of theistic evolution within a Reformed theological framework. This will not include matters of hermeneutics, that is, interpretation and epistemology of the text of the Creation account itself. Where Reformed theology derives doctrine from the text may be referenced, but I will not be contending with the meaning itself, but accepting its established meaning from this perspective.

Definitions:

Federal Headship: Christianity, by definition, believes in Christ. It believes that Christ saved Christians from a problem we all have in common through his work. In order to save people, Christ had to apply his saving work to many people. For such a work to apply to many people we must have a mechanism, or paradigm. In Reformed theology, this mechanism is understood as Federal Headship. Adam was mankind’s representative and head.

Original Sin: The problem that all people have in common is sin. While each person commits their own sins, they each are guilty of sin and affected by sin’s corruption regardless of their own actions. Adam’s sin introduced sin to mankind and, as the first man and Federal Head, imputed his guilt to all of his descendants. This inherited guilt and sinfulness in all mankind is Original Sin. Romans 5:17 (ESV) “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man...”, 5:18: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men...” 5:19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”

The Fall: The historical moment that original sin occurred and its consequences entered creation. Death may or may not have existed before the Fall, but regardless, sin entered creation, or at least man, at the Fall.

General Revelation: The doctrine that basic knowledge of God’s character and attributes may be observed in nature. Just as any piece of art or writing or work of creativity will reflect aspects of its creator, we gain knowledge of God’s existence, power and attributes by examining His creation. (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:19-20)

Materialism/Physicalism: Anthropological Materialism/Physicalism is the belief that only mankind is only made of natural, physical material. All life, consciousness and thought are results of physical substance and activity. [1], [2]

Dualism: Philosophically speaking, the concept that the physical flesh is evil and the spirit is good. Rejected by Reformed Theology. [3]

Headship of Husband: That mankind was made male and female, but that in the union of husband and wife, the husband is the head over his wife. This is compared to how Christ is head of the church and the Father is the head of Christ.


Outline

I. No Historical Adam & Eve A. No Federal Headship B. No Original Sin C. No Mechanism for Christ’s Work II. Historical Adam & Eve A. Eve was not “from Adam” B. Interaction with Old Man III. Nature of Man A. Image of God B. Constitution of Man IV. Character of God A. General Revelation Obscured B. Trial and Error: It is Good? V. Nature of Sin A. Sin not Origin of Death B. Sin not Imperfection/Corruption


I: No Historical Adam & Eve

As it has been noted, (thank you, Marc Gravell), from an evolutionary viewpoint, there can be no “first man” or one, historical, Adam. There is no sudden, perceivable change where within one generation one can point and say to one “yes, that is a man” and to the other “no, that is an animal”. Not unless we define the change in Adam purely as spiritual and God’s breath as the moment that made him change from animal to man (see Section II).

Federal Headship: If there is no Adam, there is no first man to represent his race. [4]

Original/Inherited Sin/Guilt:

There is also no original sin. This means sin did not enter the world through one man, but instead through the failures of a whole race for generations. And if there is no Adam, and there is no federal headship, then there is no universally inherited sin and guilt by imputation to all who are “of Adam”. Original sin becomes inherited error or imperfection, but not inherited guilt.

Mechanism for Christ’s Headship:

If there is no Federal Headship then there is no mechanism for Christ’s righteousness, just like Adam’s sin, to be imputed to all believers. Adam is said to be a type of Christ to come (Romans 5:14). With no Adam, there is no type for a future Christ. Federal Headship “was the only way it would later be possible for God to save us once we had sinned.” [4]


II: Historical Adam & Eve

In order to avoid (some of) the issues above, one could claim that theistic evolution advanced the biology of man’s bodies forward enough to where God stepped in and made him a living soul. It could be this moment that we see the historic creation of one man, Adam, from a spiritless humanoid animal to a spiritual being with the image of God. Now we have evolution and a historical creation of one Adam.

Eve not “of Adam”:

The only problem with this is that in this model creation the physical aspect of man is already existent. And, necessarily, Eve also is existent, she came from physical parents some time before this moment. But this would mean that Eve is not made from Adam, not physically “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”. (Unless, of course, Adam was Eve’s father, which I’m still not sure would solve the problem and is a bit alarming in and of itself.) Eve would have to also receive the same special creative interjection by God to make her a living soul as well, otherwise she is just a human “beast.” Either way, if Eve is not “of Adam” physically and spiritually then it is difficult to assert male headship in the union of a husband and wife. [5]

Interaction with “Old” Man:

Having a historical Adam picked out of an existing species brings up the awkward situation of having two “races” of men that are of the same species and are genetically indistinct. We have the new “living soul” man, and the old beastly man without a spiritual aspect from God. This only becomes interesting when we consider how the spiritual nature of man would impact such interactions.


III: Nature of Man

This then leads us to questions of the nature of this new human race.

Image of God:

As mentioned above, man’s physical nature is either all he is through evolution (materialism) and no historic Adam, or it precedes the giving of a spiritual part to a Adam. The image of God in man cannot be reflective of man’s whole being, it can only refer to his spiritual part or his physical side alone. Not both. Or, the image of God in man simply does not exist.

One might say that the physical man’s evolution was directed by God and therefore reflected God’s image and then was later combined with the spiritual image. However, this is difficult to see as will be discussed further later.

Materialism:

With no historical Adam, there is no moment of creation where God would impart an immaterial, spiritual part to Man. Theistic Evolution demands a monist understanding of the constitution of man. Mankind is purely physical. The only other alternative is that all life (from evolutionary precursors) has an immaterial aspect, even now, including plants, fish, dogs, etc. This immaterial aspect would have to be equal in all stages, or somehow be gradient in its relation to the sophistication of the creature (culminating in man).

Dualism

However, if there were a historical Adam and we view the material evolution as a necessary evil and God's moment of creation being just to provide a spiritual aspect to Adam, we may be inclined to fall into a form of dualism. As we will discuss in the next section (IV.B), it may be difficult to look at the physical evolutionary process and say "it is good". Much like the Image of God, because there is not one moment where the entire man, physical and spiritual, is made, we could fall into the trap of assigning more importance to one over the other.


IV: Character of God

General Revelation Obscured:

From a Reformed perspective, we can imagine God creating all that a man is in a moment and wonder at the wisdom, the creativity, the foresight, and the beauty of the design. We can reflect on what this God must be like who can imagine our cells, our brain, our nervous system, our senses, and our consciousness and the power it displays to form it in an instant. On the other hand, from a theistic evolution extreme, it is difficult to discern what was the product of this God’s wisdom, creativity and intelligence, and what was the product of random natural selection. These are clearly two polar opposites and there may be middle ground, but theistic evolution, by nature of how it functions, obscures the clarity of God’s General Revelation. Suddenly it is not quite so easy to know who God is, or (as fully naturalistic evolutionists propose) to know whether there is a God at all. The knowledge of God to all mankind is a core doctrine of Reformed theology.

No longer is man “without excuse” if he claims theistic evolution, for it is not nearly as “clearly perceived” as it used to seem. (Romans 1:20)

Trial and Error:

Natural selection requires trial and error by definition. For God to use evolution would require the death of countless generations of failed specimens. Can each “day’s” creation really be declared “good” when there is so much failure in each age. This leads us to the General Revelation that God is either not Sovereign or not Perfect. The only alternative is to claim no mistakes were ever made and the right mutations always happened, every generation, every species, to lead to Man. This is so contrary to evolution that it cannot even be called such anymore. There is no difference, in fact it becomes pointless to distinguish, from simple creation ex nihlo.


V. Nature of Sin

Origin of Death:

As we saw in an earlier section (I.B), there can be no Original Sin with no Adam. Even if there is Adam and Original Sin, sin cannot be the origin of death. Death is a neutral, and necessary, phenomenon which may occur as a result from sin, but is not originally caused by sin. The only scenario this would be possible is if man evolved to the point where he would not die, but by sinning God cursed them to death.

Sin is not Imperfection or Corruption:

The nature of evolution requires mistakes and mutations. However, since these occurred before Adam (or without him) as God’s chosen process, sin cannot explain the entropic results. Even now, when a child dies due to a genetic mutation we cannot see this as the effect of sin on creation, but rather as a necessary. It is not just a divinely condoned event, it divinely directed and mandated.


Conclusion

The following is a review of the Reformed theological doctrines that are impacted. They must either be redefined, re-evaluated or replaced for one to remain theologically consistent. The theological implications of theistic evolution are:

With No Adam:

  • No Federal Headship of Adam over the human race
  • No Inherited Sin or Guilt from Adam
  • No Federal Headship for Christ's Imputation to believers (a different mechanism for salvation is needed)
  • Demands Materialism, no spiritual aspect to man.

Even with an Adam:

  • The Image of God in man is either only physical or spiritual, not both, or nonexistent.
  • Suggests Dualistic dichotomy that flesh is evil and spirit is good.

In all theistic evolution models:

  • No basis (in creation) for Headship of the Husband in unions.
  • Death is not a result of Sin and The Fall
  • Sin is not imperfection or corruption (which in a materialistic model is a bit of a paradox, since it can’t be spiritual)
  • Clarity of God’s character through General Revelation is obscured in nature.
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If the Creation account in Genesis is unhistorical, Adam and Eve are unhistorical (so they can't be the first humans, with pre-human parents).

I have no problem with its not being historical. It means the Creation account is allegorical, and it's interesting that the occurrences which are listed as occurring within a week happen in the same order as a geological-time account of creation and evolution.

The question is very similar to one asked previously.

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What about the first humans to have a soul? Or the first humans God revealed himself to, just like Abraham and his descendants were the first who had a role as "chosen people"? – vsz Mar 30 '12 at 15:03
    
Any source? Answering a question with your own opinion is interesting, but adding sources add to the discussion. – David Laberge Mar 31 '12 at 0:18
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Are you claiming the order of events in Genesis is thought to be accurate based on scientific evidence? It's not wholly different, but the order is pretty scrambled. – Rex Kerr Mar 31 '12 at 11:54
    
Yes, some things are surprisingly accurate. Some others are way off (IIRC, Fish come way too late). Most are ambiguous, because it depends what you take certain words to mean (both as a matter of translation and as a matter of categorization). – RBarryYoung Apr 17 '12 at 18:11
  1. God made Adam from the dust of the ground - I guess you could take that as a sort of metaphor for evolution, but why not just say so?
  2. ..and Eve from the rib of Adam - okay, that sounds much more supportive of Evolution.
  3. Wait, who are our first parents anyways? This isn't a very technically rigorous argument, but Evolution seems to blur the line on the fact that Adam and Eve were our first parents (see Paul NT, etc.). If they evolved from pre-human species, wouldn't those species be our first parents? Also, it seems sort of strange that at some point something just magically "clicked" and "real" humans sprung into existence, with souls, consciences, and a knowledge of the Creator.
  4. <opinionated>Again not very technical, but it seems rather anti-climactic - God makes a world, then sits around "waiting" for a few billion years for Adam and Eve to come along? That doesn't make a very good story, and in my opinion, the Bible is a very good story.</opinionated>

In sum, it just doesn't seem like God at all to create man that way. Not very glory-bringing to him to have a slow, natural process create man when he could do it himself.

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...I know this isn't a super-technical answer, so I expect some dv's on it, I guess. Hopefully it's helpful, though :) – Thomas Shields Mar 30 '12 at 22:33
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Can you expand on (4), perhaps? In Theistic Evolution, not only did God create the natural process but had a special hand in guiding it to the desired outcome, so why is it any less glory-bringing? In Job, God makes a big deal out of how impressive the natural world is...being part of that world (as well as in the image of God) would seem to be a glorious thing. – Rex Kerr Mar 31 '12 at 12:30
    
@RexKerr that's a good point. #4 is sort of opinion, I guess - it seems more... "epic", i guess, for God to create Adam and Eve essentially from nothing, as opposed to evolving them. #3 is my main argument; i've edited to show that 4 is more speculative/opinionated. :) – Thomas Shields Mar 31 '12 at 16:25
    
"a couple of hundred years" - is that intended as your shorthand for about 4.5-13 billion years (depending if you are counting from the start of the universe or just planet Earth). – Chelonian Mar 31 '12 at 17:16
    
@Chelonian haha, yes. I have no clue why I wrote "couple hundred". I'll fix it. – Thomas Shields Mar 31 '12 at 17:17

The primary theological problem with theistic evolution is this:

  • It renders a literal reading of the foundational book of Old Testament incorrect.

Some people are highly uncomfortable with the implication of this. A "best reading" would be that the Old Testament is not a 'timeless book', but a 'book of the times' and must be reinterpreted in light of modern knowledge.

Many (I'd go so far as 'most') are completely fine with that implication, and already view many parts, if not all, of the Old Testament as either fable, allegory, or metaphor.

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I'd be happy to improve my answer if the person downvoting would explain the problem. I thought I answered it quite succinctly. – Kaz Dragon Aug 20 '12 at 6:55
    
Maybe that is is only one little point in quite a few that could be mentioned. It's incomplete, but so are all the other answers on this question. I didn't downvote any of the answers but I also couldn't bring myself to upvote them. – fredsbend Aug 2 '14 at 16:24

protected by Caleb Oct 5 '12 at 5:01

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