Perspectives on an Evolving Creation

By Keith Miller, ed.
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2003). 528 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 130-132

All twenty-one chapters of this book support an evolving creation and oppose a young earth/recent creationist understanding of Genesis and origins. The first of three sections, “Providing a Context,” furnishes the needed biblical, historical, and scientific context for what follows. The second section, “Scientific Evidence and Theory,” puts forward the scientific evidence for this evolving creation, or theistic evolution. Then the third part, “Theological Implications and Insights,” deals with the philosophical and theological issues usually associated with evolution. The book’s stated objective is “to provide a wide-ranging and authoritative evaluation of evolutionary theory from those with an orthodox Christian perspective” (xi). “The need is for a Christian worldview which integrates, seriously, both scriptural revelation and the testimony of the created universe” (xii). So, to this end, contributors were drawn from a variety of disciplines, namely astronomy, geology, paleontology, anthropology, biochemistry, genetics, philosophy, theology, and the history of science.

The editor’s preface advises that he, as geologist and paleoecologist, wishes to share the excitement and challenge of contemporary evolutionary research (xi). More than sharing the news of new discoveries, he wishes to advance the debate on creation and evolution in the evangelical Christian community beyond its “often fruitless and divisive nature” (xi). An admirable intention, to be sure, but one wonders if the debate can be advanced at all beyond the current stalemate. The reason is that with the Word of God as the inspired, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative revelation, any treatment overlooking sound exegesis and seeking an interpretive context to justify the view being proposed, is not tolerable. The elasticity and fluidity with which passages are subsequently handled so as to ensure that the biblical text and its facts conform with the current understanding of science is also quite troubling. It is easier, apparently, to relate the Bible to the fossil record if one considers that the Bible was written before the modern age, before the rise of modern science, and thus is not a science textbook. That the Bible is not a textbook of modern science is correct, but this does not imply that errors of fact and loss of objective accuracy occur in passages about natural phenomena and historical events.

“Evolution and Original Sin” is the title of a chapter which obviously attracts attention. The Historical/Ideal View is considered the best understanding of evolution and original sin. It might be “the best” from Miller’s perspective, but its denial that Adam and Eve were ever actually in the Garden of Eden in a paradisal state is beyond most worrisome, to say the least. Further, the denial that the Fall deeply affected human nature is equally very troublesome, especially when the assertion is made that neither of these two topics is found in Scripture (472). The Garden is said to represent what an ideal relation with God would be, and Adam and Eve represent both “every person” as well as the first hominids with self-consciousness and a growing awareness of God—a clear awareness uncluttered by the spiritual darkness that clouded the minds of the human race when later it turned away from God. The Historical/Ideal View, is described as theistically guided evolution, which means that all on earth is the result of the evolutionary process with God in different places and times guiding or influencing this process. God works in and through the natural processes, e.g., reproduction, and so the offspring are both the product of the operation of the world and a creation of God (497).

The problem is that other unsettling statements are quickly noticeable as one reads through the book, such as a clear acceptance of (1) the reality of common descent, (2) hominids before Adam and Eve, with the fossil record suggesting continuity between pre-human and human physical forms (208-30), (3) dual revelation theory ( 15-16), (4) two separate and contradictory creation accounts in Genesis 1–2, which defy harmonization if they are taken as natural history (21), (5) two traditions—agricultural/urban and the pastoral/nomadic—in the vocabulary of Genesis 1 and 2, which allows for harmonization, which a literal historical hermeneutic could not accomplish (22-23), (6) the primeval darkness and sea and the formless earth as the forces of chaos to be overcome, but without considering that this need not depict chaos at all (26-27), (7) the Big Bang as the beginning point, but without commenting upon “the nothing” before that (104-7), (8) the seven-day week as having no chronological or historical significance—it just religiously affirms the totality of the universe having its origins in God (25-26), (9) a definition of original sin as covering the sinful choices all the way from hominids up to the current generation and the resulting bondage to sin and darkness inherited from ancestors (470-71), and (10) the early chapters of Genesis as a theological commentary and symbolic reconstruction of primal history, fitting in with the concepts and stories of that time—it is decidedly not historical narrative but cosmogonic narrative, and thus not to be taken literally (32-33).

One writer in closing his chapter, “Biochemistry and Evolution,” acknowledges that the biblical account of the origin of man reveals a unique origin, both physically and spiritually, that puts it outside the evolutionary process. Yet, nothing in homo sapiens biology or biochemistry would suggest that his origin is not part of evolution. Eloquently, he opts for no conclusion by saying, “I am content to remain in a state of cognitive dissonance on this issue until further clarity comes my way” (287). Commendable stance? No! Why is it so difficult to accept the biblical account? Does man being made in the image of God have no significance here? Not a single chapter, it may be said, is entirely free of such troubling and disturbing conclusions, evaluations, and statements as those noted above.

Perhaps it would be too much to ask the contributors to read thoughtfully David Tsumura’s “The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation,” (JSOTSup 83, 1989) and Roberto Ouro’s two-part article, “The Earth of Genesis 1:2, Abiotic or Chaotic?” (AUSS 35/2, 1998, and 37 /1, 1999), for conclusions that the darkness and the “without form and void” are not indicative of chaos but of a world which could not sustain life, i.e., abiotic. The Hebrew conception of the world rejects the mythological concoctions of the surrounding nations. Were not these stories of creation and origins from the other nations nothing but sin-distorted versions of what really took place, which finally Moses under inspiration put down in writing so that the Hebrews would not embrace falsehood with regard to the beginning of all things? One more question: Is it really possible to ignore the Flood when studying the fossil record?

The footnotes, however, are most informative and introduce the reader to a considerable body of literature treating the subject matters under discussion. The content of the chapters is no easy reading, requiring concentration. The absence of an index makes for thumbing through the pages of a chapter or two whose contents might cover the information being sought. This book has value in that it will provide the reader with an extensive look at the conclusions and thinking of theistic evolutionists and will reveal their interpretive approach to the biblical account of creation. It is an eye-opener!