What is Theistic Evolution?
Theistic evolution (sometimes abbreviated TE) takes many forms but its general theme is that God used natural evolutionary processes to bring about his desired results concerning life on planet Earth, culminating in the appearance of human beings. Advocates of this position typically propose that God intervened directly (de novo, anew) at the beginning of the creative process (origin of the universe) but afterward worked solely through natural mechanisms to give rise to life and ultimately to humanity. Because the created order possesses built-in self-organization and transformational qualities, no further supernatural intervention was necessary as it moved through the evolutionary process.
Many who hold this position interpret the early chapters of Genesis as figurative, archetypal, or mythological in nature. Theistic evolution is also sometimes called “evolutionary creationism,” “fully gifted creation,” and “BioLogos.”
What difficulties are associated with Theistic Evolution?
While a number of prominent Christian scholars affirm theistic evolution, other evangelical scholars have identified a variety of scientific, theological, and biblical objections with the viewpoint. Three such criticisms will be outlined briefly:
- Some scientists argue that the challenges for a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life, like the sudden emergence of complex life-forms (such as at the Cambrian explosion), also apply to theistic evolution. Therefore, TE may not explain the discontinuities in the natural record in an adequate and persuasive manner.
- Some theologians suggest that theistic evolution’s view of God (a being who does not directly intervene in the universe after creation) comes closer to deism than to biblical theism (a God who not only creates, but continually intervenes and sustains). In other words, some think TE focuses upon God’s immanence in creation at the expense of his transcendent creative intervention, whereas biblical theism stresses the need to properly balance both of these critical divine attributes.
- Not only does Scripture seem to indicate that God has intervened directly in the creative process to create the first member of each kind of species (rejecting all such macroevolution), but the biblical text also seems to present God as creating Adam and Eve in a direct, special, and personal way (thus as authentic historical persons). Thus most evangelical textual scholars view the early chapters of Genesis as reflecting a genuine historical narrative.
For a presentation and defense of theistic evolution, see Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation (‘Theistic Evolution’),” in J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, gen. ed. Three Views on Creation and Evolution (Zondervan, 1999) and Francis S. Collins TheLanguage of God (Free Press, 2006).