Essentials of Creation: A Response to The Gospel Coalition
Certain beliefs about creation are essential to Christian faith, but evolutionary science should be something about which Christians can legitimately disagree.
A recent video produced by The Gospel Coalition features pastor and author Tim Keller, along with Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore and theologian Ligon Duncan, discussing the doctrine of creation in light of modern science. The video makes several important points that we affirm at BioLogos, but also raises some concerns.
The video begins with an exhortation from Tim Keller on the importance of viewing creation through the lens of God’s transcendent, loving, and purposeful nature. At BioLogos, we completely agree. He highlights how these core theological teachings are important entry points into conversations with non-Christians, as a counter-narrative to viewing nature as accidental, chaotic, and ultimately meaningless. We can tell our neighbors, “You were made for a purpose.” Keller recommends talking with non-Christians about God’s role in creation and his redemptive purposes in Jesus Christ, rather than dwelling on issues of origins, where there are multiple orthodox Christian positions (on some points it’s OK to say “I don’t know”). The video affirms the process of doing science and notes that the strong philosophical foundation for science within the Christian worldview is an important counter-argument for concerns about anti-intellectualism in Christianity.
The video goes on to name three essentials of the doctrine of creation, areas on which Christians can agree across multiple views of origins. We are pleased to see these leaders framing the question this way, drawing focus to the essentials and to points of unity while allowing discussion in the church about secondary differences. Of course, the rub comes in deciding what is essential. On two of the three points they name, we agree completely. First, at BioLogos we uphold the distinction between the Creator and the creation. This is essential for affirming the power of God as the ultimate cause, the loving and personal nature of God the Creator, and the complete reliance of the created order on God. Second, we uphold the goodness of creation, clearly taught in Genesis 1 and elsewhere in Scripture. God’s creation is good in that it fulfills the purpose for which he intended it, in its beauty and starkness, its order and wildness, and its purpose and flourishing.
The third essential belief proposed in this video is the special creation of Adam and Eve. Keller, along with the other participants, believes this to be not only the clear message of Genesis but an essential part of the overall biblical message.
At BioLogos, our views on human origins are centered on essential biblical teachings about human identity and origins. We join all Christians in affirming that humans are made in the image of God, that humans have an elevated place in the created order, and that humans have a unique relationship with God. To this extent we are sure the leaders on this video would agree. However, we disagree that is it essential to believe in the special creation of a first pair. We propose that another view is also faithful, in which God used the natural mechanisms of evolution to create the first group of Homo sapiens.
As Tim Keller notes in the video, his scientist friends have explained to him the scientific consensus that Homo sapiens evolved. BioLogos has endeavored to explain the many lines of evidence in God’s creation that point to this. There is strong evidence for human evolution, particularly from the field of genetics, that has convinced almost every professional biologist, both Christian and secular. The genetic evidence also shows convincingly that the average breeding population of our ancestors has been larger than a single couple for at least the last 200,000 years. A couple could have been specially created more recently, but their descendants must have interbred with the surrounding population (e.g. here and here). The level of scientific confidence on these points is extremely high, and continues to grow. As Christians, we can’t ignore the testimony in God’s creation.
BioLogos encourages all Christians to consider this evidence alongside the testimony of Scripture. There are several faithful ways to understand the biblical account of Adam and Eve alongside the scientific evidence, including as two historical individuals at the headwaters of humanity. In fact, Keller himself highlights one of these positions in his 2011 BioLogos essay, a view proposed by biblical scholar Derek Kidner. Keller also acknowledges that C.S. Lewis believed Adam and Eve could be understood as part of an evolutionary account of human origins. Other major evangelical figures have also suggested ways to integrate evolutionary science with the biblical message on human origins, including John Stott and Billy Graham. Drawing a line that requires Christians to affirm a special creation of Adam and Eve carries a significant risk of driving away those who might otherwise be drawn to the faith. We appeal to the Gospel Coalition to not frame the essentials of creation around the method God used to create humans, but around God’s purpose and intent for humans. God made us to know him, love him, and to bear his image in this world.
Our final concern is about several statements in the video tying racial equality and reconciliation to belief in special creation of Adam and Eve. These statements claim that an evolutionary understanding of human origins is at odds with the equality of all people taught in Scripture. But the genomic evidence actually points toward equality! Genetics provides compelling support for the idea that every person on Earth is related, as part of a worldwide family. There is no difference between the “evolutionary creation” and “special creation” positions on the unity of humanity. We stand united with Keller and The Gospel Coalition in condemning the evil of racism and advocating for racial reconciliation in both Church and culture.
A primary goal at BioLogos is to demonstrate that evolutionary creation is a faithful option for orthodox, Bible-believing Christians. Tim Keller, though he disagrees with aspects of our position, has been an ally and friend in promoting a healthy conversation. He and Francis Collins have been good friends for many years, and heartily affirm each other’s Christian faith. We encourage the Gospel Coalition to continue proclaiming the theological and biblical essentials of creation, but to place evolutionary science as a point on which Christians can disagree. Christians can sincerely disagree about human evolution and yet sincerely affirm each other’s orthodox faith. The questions surrounding Scripture, evolutionary science, and human origins are important and challenging. We need more spaces for Christians of different perspectives to work through these issues in the spirit of Christian unity and charity.
Edits made in February 2019 to add the possibility of special creation of an early couple that interbred with a larger population, and in January 2020 to more accurately summarize Keller’s statements and the scientific findings from population genetics. Thanks to biologists Jeff Schloss and Josh Swamidass for useful comments.
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