Theistic evolution is the belief God brought about the present variety of life on earth by the process of evolution.
In a manner of speaking, the very term “theistic evolution” is oxymoronic. A radical discontinuity exists between the tenets of modern evolutionary theory and the eternal creator God revealed in Scripture. Yet, as sharp as the inconsistencies are between what is taught in Scripture about the origin of creation and what evolutionary theory believes about origins, theistic evolutionists insist the biblical revelation of creation can be woven together with evolution.
But could God have providentially used evolution to create? Can one hold to modern evolutionary theory and still fully confirm the infallibility of God’s Word? I don’t believe so and I think there is clear reason why I say that.
Consider death and dying. The death of living things is taught in Scripture as being a bad thing; an unwelcomed intrusion in God’s creative order.
After God originally created the world, He declared that all He created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But, Adam’s act of disobedience in the garden by eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 3) is understood as the introduction of death and suffering into God’s creation. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, separated from an intimate relationship with God and the earth was also cursed so that it would no longer serve Adam in the manner it once did.
The end result of Adam’s sin was physical death, and the eventual physical death of all of his progeny. Within the genealogies of Genesis 5, the repeated phrase that rings in the ears of the reader is …and he died. Ultimately, eternal death would result when men were divinely judged for their rebellion against God. Adam’s sin did not stop with only him and his human descendents, however, but it plunged the entirety of God’s creation under the curse of sin so that all living things will suffer the pains of dying and eventual death. As Paul summed up the situation in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death.
Evolutionary theory, on the other hand, understands death as one of the mechanisms that is a part of the process of evolution. The author of the article Evolution for Beginners notes the second important thing that drives evolution is,
the disproportionately high percentage of deaths of organisms who are less well suited to their environments and predatory conditions, and therefore are unable to leave as many offspring.
The idea being that death of a weaker, individual organism allows the stronger organisms to thrive and pass along their offspring. Additionally, competition among species contributes to the function of natural selection and the evolution of those species. Competition then,
… occurs when two species each require a resource that is in short supply, so that the availability of the resource to one species is negatively influenced by the presence of the other species.
Hence, when environments lack the food sources necessary to sustain the life contained in it, weaker species will thin out due to the inability to adapt and survive. In other words, they die off.
Theistic evolutionists, instead of understanding that death is the negative consequence of Adam’s sin, insist “death” is an important part of God’s creation and it is necessary to maintain God’s “perfect” world. Death is viewed as a creative agent facilitating the majestic work of God as He providentially guides His creation to reflect His glory. That is also the position of other old earth creationists who would reject the concept of evolution. For example, Hugh Ross and the apologists at his ministry Reasons To Believe as well as Greg Koukl and Stand to Reason.
But seeing “death” as a creative act of God and a necessity for His created order is strange in light of the fact the Bible identifies the introduction of death with Adam’s sin. Death is the eventually curse upon man’s sinfulness, and the Bible states the entirety of creation groans under death’s curse. Death is an enemy to be abolished at the coming of the new created order (1 Corinthians 15:26).
If “death” is a work of God’s creative action, why does Revelation 21:4 say, And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away? The “former things” are contrasted here with the New Heaven and New Earth. Whereas the “former things” – our current world in which we live – are marked by death, sorrow, crying, and pain, the New Heaven and New Earth are not. The “former things” are certainly not described as being good or an important part of God’s perfect creation.
On top of this, famine and the scarcity of resources is revealed in the Bible as a judgment by God against His people and against sinners in general. For example, in the curses promised to Israel if they did not obey the covenant made with God, the LORD says in Deuteronomy 28:24 that He will change the rain of your land to powder and dust; from the heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed. We see this promise kept in 1 Kings 17 when the prophet Elijah announces no rain will come upon the land for 3 years. In the prophecy of Jeremiah, chapters 14, 42, and 44 particularly, God threatens to send famine and pestilence upon the people as a means of judgment. Other prophets record similar threats and acts of judgment by God. In all of those instances, death, disease, and famine, is an extremely negative thing and never is creativity attributed to them.
A lot of the dying of God’s creatures involves the scarcity of resources – the idea of competition noted above. Yet it is clear from Genesis 1:11-13, 20, and 22, that God originally created His world with the abundance of life in the seas and on the land, and the necessary resources for that abundant life to thrive.
That is especially true with God’s command to “be fruitful and multiple” because the resources must be available for His creation to fulfill that mandate. But the lack of resources in a given environment on the earth is one of the primary causes of death. In light of what God stated about His original creation multiplying abundantly and being fruitful, the reality of competition, the struggle to survive, and the lack of much needed resources conflicts with theistic evolution. It is dishonest to claim affirmation of God’s inspired Word regarding His creation, while at the same time believe that death is a positive mechanism for the evolutionary process. Such ignores the curse of sin upon the creation.
The typical response by theistic evolutionists, and even old earth creationists, is to say the death spoken of in Genesis is “spiritual” death, not physical death. Some even redefine the word “death” to mean only “separation” and chide those who think no physical death existed before Adam sinned as misunderstanding the theology of death.
The reason Adam didn’t die, they argue, is because he and Eve were in fellowship with God and had access to the tree of life mentioned in Genesis 1-3. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t die, per se. Their obedience to God and resistance to the Devil’s temptation merely promised them immortality. But once Adam and Eve disobeyed, they were separated from God and they could no longer partake of the tree of life. From that point onward they were to continue being subjected to physical death.
But that is a strained interpretation of Adam’s sin and the death that followed when one considers Paul’s argument for Christ’s cross work of redemption. There are at least two reasons why death by Adam’s sin was not just “spiritual,” but also physical and that physical death had not happened before he sinned.
First, In both Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains that redemption was only secured when Christ physically died and then physically rose again from the grave. In 1 Corinthians 15:21 and following, Paul contrasts Adam’s act of sin which produced physical death with Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead. If Adam had only died spiritually, then it would only be logical to say Christ was only “raised” spiritually. There would be no need for the bloody death of a substitute to pay the penalty for sin as Paul outlines in Romans 3-5, and then His resurrection from the dead (see also Hebrews 9:16, 17).
Secondly, Paul ties the restoration of creation at the eschaton to the physical resurrection of the saints and the defeat of death as the “last enemy.” He writes in 1 Corinthians 15:42-58 how the corruptible (fallen, mortal, sinful men), cannot inherit the incorruptible (the new “sinless” creation). The corruptible becomes incorruptible when Christ returns and God’s kingdom comes to earth and transforms it. The contrast between the corruptible and the incorruptible and the identification of sin as the “sting of death” in verse 56 clearly implies the condition of “corruptibility” did not exist before sin.
Now, if physical death existed before Adam’s sin and was a part of God’s perfect creation, why is there a need for our redemption from “corruption”? Why is physical death even considered an “enemy”? Why would a good thing necessary to God’s perfect creation even be considered an “enemy”? Something that is to be abolished? And if physical death existed before Adam sinned, why is it tied to Adam’s transgression?
What I am seeing with the arguments made by theistic evolutionists – and by extension, old earth creationists – is that physical death isn’t really considered a “big deal” to them. But the theology of death presented by theistic evolutionists creates major difficulties with the whole of Scripture and how the Bible understands death. A person has to wonder what impact theistic evolutionists believe Adam’s sin had first to his progeny and then to the rest of the world. A person also has to wonder how seriously theistic evolutionists believe the plain teaching of Scripture in these matters. From what I can tell, biblical theology suffers horrendously in their hands.
A lot of my thinking with this article came from this paper, Theological Problems of Theistic Evolution, by Fred Van Dyke