Scripture and Nature Say "Yes" to Evolution: An Interview with Denis Lamoureux
Believers wanting to honor God’s Two Books—Scripture and Nature—faithfully and without conflict will find an excellent introduction in this new book.
Denis Lamoureux is a well-known figure in the North American evangelical conversation about evolution. His 2008 book, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution was one of the first I saw adopting the evolutionary creation perspective (and the first I remember that used that label). Of course, there is a range of views on various topics associated with evolutionary creation. BioLogos attempts to maintain a fairly big tent, encouraging dialogue on these topics (see our belief statement here). So Lamoureux’s views are not the only ones you’ll find here, but we’re glad to have him as a dialogue partner in the tent!
Denis is Associate Professor of Science & Religion at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He has doctorates in evolutionary biology and in theology (and another in dentistry). He has just published a new book with Zondervan called, Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! I was able to ask him some questions about this recently, and I’m now pleased to present his answers here.
Jim Stump: You have a new book just published. What is it about?
Denis Lamoureux: I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share a few thoughts about my new book. It’s privilege to have me answer some questions about it on the BioLogos website.
The book deals with the topic of origins. In particular, it’s about how I as an evangelical theologian and evolutionary biologist have found one way to fully embrace Jesus as my Lord and Saviour as well as to completely accept evolution without any qualifications or reservations whatsoever.
The book is not limited to academic arguments. It also shares my personal story of coming to Christian faith and of coming to terms with evolution. The first two chapters outline my 20 years of wrestling with Christianity and science. This journey intensified with my pursuits of a PhD in evangelical theology with a focus on the biblical accounts of origins and their interpretation, along with a PhD in biology with an emphasis on dental development and evolution.
In many ways, the book could have been entitled “The Evolution of an Evolutionary Creationist.” I began my voyage in graduate school back in 1984 with the intention of becoming a creation scientist (aka young earth creation scientist), and by the time I finished school I was a fully committed evolutionary creationist.
The final chapter is also personal in that I share stories of my students who have taken my introductory science & religion course over the last 20 years.
JS: Your title might be interpreted as claiming that by a careful reading of Scripture we can find the scientific theory of evolution “between the lines”. I’m pretty sure you don’t mean that sort of concordism. So in what sense does Scripture say “yes” to evolution?
DL: Great question. The title is definitely intended to be a little provocative and to produce a tad of dissonance. This book was written for young people and I know they like a bit of “edge.”
Older people will identify that the title echoes back to Duane Gish’s famed Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1972). It was one of the most important anti-evolutionary books of its time and has had a huge impact in the emergence of the modern young earth creationist movement.
And I know this personally. When I read Gish’s book in 1980, he convinced me that there was a massive conspiracy in science in that scientists were not admitting that there was no fossil evidence for evolution. In fact, I was so convinced of this that I walked out of medical school and wrote Gish that I wanted to join him in attacking evolution at universities.
Returning now to your question. The title is also intended to raise questions such as “How is the word ‘evolution’ being used?” and especially, “How is Scripture being interpreted?”
To answer the first question, I explain in the book that I’m presenting a teleological view of evolution, and I am also including cosmological and geological evolution alongside biological evolution. To be more specific, I believe that evolution has been ordained by the Lord and sustained by Him throughout time starting with His initial and only act of creation—the Big Bang. Throughout the book I am adamantly opposed to the God-of-the-gaps and the idea that God tinkers about in nature by adding missing parts or modifying others. From my perspective, our Creator has the unfathomable foresight and strength to create a self-assembling world, culminating with the evolution of men and women who bear the Image of God.
To answer the second question, and Jim your question reflects this, I argue that the Word of God has an ancient understanding of nature. In other words, there is an ancient science in Scripture (e.g, the 3-tier universe in the diagram below).
And this is the key to my coming to terms with evolution. As Evangelicals we have a long tradition of embracing concordism (the belief that the Bible and science align in some sort of way). However, the “big reveal” that I had in theology grad school was discovering that the Holy Spirit accommodated in the revelatory process and used the best science-of-the-day as an incidental vessel in the Biblical creation accounts to reveal inerrant spiritual truths, such as: (1) God created the universe and life, (2) the universe and life are very good, (3) God created humans in the Image of God, (4) humans are sinful, (5) God judges humans for their sins, and (6) God chose Israel to bless the entire world.
Therefore, Scripture says “yes” to evolution in that Scripture does not reveal how God actually created the world. More specifically, I present scores of Biblical verses to prove that concordism fails. In other words, I offer evidence from within Scripture itself that demonstrates the Bible should not be used as a book of science to argue against evolution.
Now I need to add that the key word in my title is the conjunction “and.” We have to embrace BOTH Scripture and nature. To assist readers in understanding the title, I wrote on the back cover of the book: “Taken together, God’s two books offer us a complementary picture of who created the world [Scripture does that] and how he created it [nature does that].”
Let me cite two paragraphs from the final subsection of the book to further explain my thesis in the book and the title:
It is only when Scripture and nature are taken together in a complementary relationship that they can say “yes” to evolution. In dealing with the origin of the universe and life, God’s Two Books complete one another in that each adds something not found in the other. The Book of God’s Words reveals spiritual truths. The Book of God’s Works offers scientific facts. The Bible tells us who created and science shows how he created. Togetherthese two divine books provide an integrated revelation of our Creator, his creation, and us.
This is necessary to repeat: The key to a fruitful relationship between God’s Two Books is that they must be taken together. Standing alone they offer only an incomplete revelation of our Creator, the creation, and humanity. For example, Christians limiting themselves just to Scripture will be forced to conclude that they live in a 3-tiered universe and that God created such a world de novo (quickly and fully developed). On the other hand, if someone focuses merely on nature, it leads to an unknown and nebulous creator. It is only by embracing both the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature that we can enjoy the fullness of the two divine revelations that God intended for us.
JS: Your concern for students comes through loud and clear in the book. What have you found to be the most effective strategies for relieving the tension too many students feel between evolutionary science and Christian faith?
DL: Yes Jim, this book was written for students. As I mention in the introductory chapter, this is the book I wish I would have had at the beginning of college. I was trapped in “either/or” thinking and assumed that there were only two positions on origins: either atheistic evolution or creation in six days.
The goal of the book is modest. I just want students to be aware that should they become convinced that evolution is true, then I am proposing a way in which they can still embrace their Christian faith. My mistake (and that of many others) was that once I saw evolutionary evidence, I rejected my faith. But that was a terrible, terrible mistake.
I have delivered an introductory undergraduate course on science and religion over 100 times since 1997. There are three teaching strategies/principles that have arisen from this experience.
The first is to offer the students as many options as possible. About 40% of my materials come from non-Christian sources. Let students see different possibilities so that they can make informed decisions about what they believe regarding the relationship between Science & Religion.
Second, I give students complete intellectual freedom to construct their belief system. In educational circles, this is termed “constructive pedagogy” and it has proven to be a very effective strategy. I also tell the students my personal views, but also say that they are never tested on my beliefs on exams. In fact, I identify my beliefs in the class notes by putting them between lines.
Finally, and this in my mind is the most important strategy/principle: introduce students to the foundational concepts of biblical interpretation. After every course at my university, students are given a questionnaire to evaluate their professor. One of the questions asks to identify the most valuable aspect of the class. The majority of my students state that learning the concepts of biblical interpretation was the best part of the course. They often point to the notion of ancient science in Scripture, the idea of Divine accommodation, and the problem of scientific concordism as being very helpful concepts. For most students, the assumption that the Bible is supposed to align with the facts of science was a longstanding issue for them. Once freed from concordism, many experience a renewed love for Scripture and its inerrant spiritual truths.
JS: You’ve been involved in the science and religion dialogues for a long time. Can you look back over those years and see any long-term trends?
DL: I can answer your question with one word: BioLogos. When I started my voyage in graduate school in 1984 there were no evangelical organizations like BioLogos. In fact, when I mentioned to my professor J.I. Packer that I wanted to be an origins debate scholar, he thought I was crazy!
I must also mention the American Scientific Affiliation. At my first meeting in 1994, I roomed with a global flood theorist. This past summer at the ASA meeting, it was palpable how evolutionary creation has become the dominant view of origins.
Another trend is that there are a number of academic positions specializing in Science & Religion. For example, there are tenure-track positions in some of the most prominent universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, and others.
Finally, I’ve seen a shift by evangelical publishers regarding evolution. Under your leadership Jim, BioLogos and InterVarsity Press are collaborating on a number of projects. And I have the privilege of having my present book being published by Zondervan. Indeed, there is a shift going on with Evangelicals coming to accept evolution.
JS: If you were advising someone today who is interested in a career in the academic field of science and religion, what topics would you suggest as the most important for careful, Christian thinking?
I would say, “Don’t do what I did!” They don’t need to do a PhD in theology to realize that concordism fails and that the Bible is not a book of science. And they don’t need a PhD in biology to realize the evolution of life is a fact. Read my book and save yourself a lot of time that I wasted!
The academic field of Science and Religion is quite young, only about 25 or so years old. Therefore, there is no set program on how to get into this discipline. However, it needs to be said that it is for the most part a humanities discipline, and not a scientific discipline. With this being the case, I would look to the academic discipline of the History and Philosophy of Science as a template, whereby students are encouraged to get a science undergraduate degree, and then do graduate work in HPS.
So, I would suggest that students consider doing an undergraduate science degree first, and then enter a theology (or philosophy) program in Science & Religion.
And if I had to do my education over again, I would do neuroscience first, and then a theological/philosophical program in the mind-soul/body problem. And yes, being a bit obsessive, I would do two PhDs, one in each discipline. My ultimate goal would be to develop a fully Christ-centred understanding of evolutionary psychology. I am convinced that this science can be completely integrated into a Christian framework (some of my first thoughts on this topic can be found in this 2015 paper).
JS: Thanks so much for your time, and blessings on your work. To our readers: We encourage everyone to take a look at Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes!
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