The Southern Baptist Voices series is a collection of seven essays from Southern Baptist scholars with BioLogos responses. The series came out of conversations between Dr. Darrel Falk and Dr. Kenneth Keathley, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as a way to address concerns and arguments about BioLogos’ theology. In this article, Dr. Keathley outlines six areas of concern he has with BioLogos positions. A BioLogos response, written by Kathryn Applegate, Deb Haarsma, and Darrel Falk, follows.
I thank Darrel Falk for the opportunity to write this brief essay for the BioLogos website. When Dr. Falk extended the invitation to me and other SBC seminary professors like me to write a series of essays, he knew full well that we would mostly express our concerns and disagreements with a number of BioLogos positions. I commend Dr. Falk for his graciousness and bravery. I intend at this time merely to introduce the topics about which my colleagues will write more extensively.
Professors at the six Southern Baptist seminaries subscribe to the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), the statement of faith adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention. The BF&M provides a summary of Christian beliefs from a Baptist perspective, but it is conspicuously silent on three subjects: Calvinism, the nature of the millennial kingdom, and the age of the earth. Because Southern Baptists hold to a spectrum of views on each of these hot-button items, no specific position is taken. It is the third matter—creation, the age of the earth, and all the attendant matters, that concern us now. The BF&M declares God to be the Creator of the Universe and describes humans as the special creation of God, but the confession has no section that deals specifically with the doctrine of Creation.
I think it would be safe to say that most (but not all) Southern Baptists hold to young-earth creationism (YEC). Among the faculty of our six seminaries one would find a mix of YEC proponents and OEC (old-earth creationism) adherents. I sometimes describe myself as a “disappointed young-earther.” By that I mean I started out holding to the young-earth position but the shortcomings of most YEC arguments and the shenanigans of certain YEC advocates forced me to move to the OEC position. I am not aware of any SBC seminary faculty who advocates theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism (EC). Many (including me) are involved with or express sympathy to the intelligent design movement (ID).
So what are some of the concerns we have with evolutionary creationism as typically presented by the BioLogos Foundation? Briefly, they are:
Concerns about theological method: Christians cannot do theology in a vacuum. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that theology is never done in a vacuum, and we should not pretend that it is. And the BioLogos Foundation is correct in arguing that evangelicals cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and other related fields. Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics. Rather, our task as pastors and theologians is to present a theology of Creation that provides a solid worldview for Christians to work in the natural sciences with integrity for the glory of God.
One gets the impression at times that evolutionary creationism is a theory in search of theological justification. It’s easy to see why believing scientists who hold to evolution would want to find ways that evolution could be compatible with orthodox Christian doctrine. However, theologically speaking, the danger of the tail wagging the dog is very real. Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution? Are we to start with a scientific conclusion and then look for biblical sanction? I don’t think most scientists would want to do science the way evolutionary creationists seem to be asking theologians to do theology.
Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity: Genre and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) have always been difficult topics. In the early days of the church, from Basil of Caesarea to Augustine, scholars struggled with the proper way to understand the creation account in Genesis. Lately, however, the concordist and non-concordist approaches to the first 11 chapters of Genesis seem to be of unending and ever-increasing variety and complexity. Theistic evolutionists have contributed to the conversation. Certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis.
Take for example, the account of God creating Eve from Adam’s rib:
Should we understand, as some theistic evolutionists suggest, that the real message of these verses is that God gave a female hominid the same awareness of the divine that He gave to a male hominid? Is this the intended meaning of the account? I just don’t see how we can arrive at such an understanding with integrity. The textual skin of Genesis 1-3 does not readily fit over an evolutionary drum.Some evolutionary creationists treat the creation accounts in ways that are not far from the allegorical interpretations of Origen. Hans Frei observed that such methods often hide an embarrassment about the biblical narrative. They allow one to play fast and loose with the text while appearing to take the Bible seriously. The BioLogos community has yet to convince Southern Baptist scholars that they are correctly handling the Genesis accounts.
The connection between natural history and salvation history: This seems to be a (maybe, the) major area of disagreement between evolutionary creationists and intelligent design proponents.
On the one hand, there is the modern evolutionary understanding of natural history (often called neo-Darwinism or something similar). Here is my understanding of that narrative: Certain elements of nature contained self-organizing and self-replicating properties. These properties are able, from a natural perspective, to account for the information and complexity that were necessary for life to arise. Once life began, random variation and natural selection are sufficient (again naturally speaking) to explain the diversity of life we see today. Evolutionary creationists understand God to have guided and sustained the entire process by means of ordinary providence. No direct divine activity is discernible or necessary.
On the other hand, the grand narrative of the Bible presents us with an account of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and eventual Consummation. Salvation history presents God as the sovereign Lord, active in revealing and saving power. He manifests himself throughout the Old and New Testaments in signs, wonders, and miracles, and culminates his saving work in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ordinary providence is spiked with the mighty acts of God.
How does BioLogos connect the two narratives? Are the two worldviews even compatible? Southern Baptists affirm that ordinary providence is the way that God generally deals with His creation. But salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God. This is why creationists, whether they are YEC advocates, or OEC advocates, or even ID proponents, expect to find evidence of discontinuity in the natural record also. To laymen (in scientific matters) like me, the relationship between BioLogos and ID proponents appears to be hostile. And the debate seems to be over whether or not we should expect to find evidences of divine activity in the natural order. The BioLogos proponents have not demonstrated how they understand the two narratives to come together.
The status of Adam and Eve: Evolutionary creationists appear to disagree among themselves about whether or not Adam was a historical figure. Some, such as Denis Lamoureux, declare Adam to be a mythical character. Others (Denis Alexander comes to mind) view Adam as representative of the first Neolithic farmers with whom God entered into a relationship.
For most Southern Baptists, including me, the historicity of Adam and Eve is a litmus test. Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals why we believe this way. The New Testament authors treat Adam as a historical figure, and they interconnect the mission and work of Jesus with the first man. Paul repeatedly presents Christ as the last Adam—succeeding where the first Adam failed and redeeming fallen humanity in the process. C. John Collins has written an excellent book on the subject entitled Did Adam and Eve Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care. He gives three criteria for an orthodox understanding of Adam and Eve (pp 120-21), and I believe they are worth repeating here.
- The origin of the human could not have come about by mere natural processes.
- Adam and Eve were “at the headwaters of the human race.”
- A historical fall must have occurred very closely to the beginning of the human race.
Evolutionary creationists still have a great deal of work to do in this area. If no evolutionary theory can be found that can reasonably incorporate above three criteria, then that would be a deal killer.
The perennial problem of evil: Selfishness, suffering, and death are not spiritually neutral phenomena. YEC and OEC adherents believe a rupture occurred in the natural order when Lucifer rebelled, and in some ways again when Adam joined him. The Fall was a ruinous event. As a result, both moral evil and natural evil exists. Granted, natural evil is far more ambiguous than moral evil. But all Christians agree that—as beautiful as the present order is—things are not the way they are supposed to be. And Christians throughout church history have attributed the sad condition of this present age to the free moral choices of angels and humans.
Evolutionary creationism seems to have a particularly difficult problem on this point. Evolutionary theory presents selfishness as a virtue—perhaps the only virtue. Even altruism is seen as well-disguised selfishness. Christianity has historically viewed selfishness as among the greatest of vices and has seen death as the greatest of enemies. But according to EC, suffering and death are not tragedies. Rather they are creative agents that assist the engine of natural selection.
The nature and authority of Scripture: Southern Baptists are inerrantists, without apology. We hold to the infallibility of the Bible because we believe it is the Word of God. God is truth, so the very nature of the divine disclosure is truth, without any mixture of error. In addition, we believe that the Bible presents itself as inspired, infallible, and inerrant, and that this was the understanding Jesus had of the Scriptures during his earthly ministry. One is free to reject the Bible’s infallibility, but I think anyone who does so must admit that his view of Scripture is different from our Lord’s.
B.B. Warfield, the Princeton theologian who coined the term “inerrancy,” held to theistic evolution, so clearly one can adhere to both. And J. I. Packer, one of the framers of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, holds to EC, so evidently he views EC as compatible with inerrancy as expressed by the Chicago Statement. However, many advocates of EC have abandoned inerrancy, or reduce the doctrine to a mere inerrancy of purpose. The BioLogos Foundation has not made clear its view of Scripture, but the nature and authority of the Bible will have to be a major portion of any serious conversation between Southern Baptists and BioLogos.
Last June, Francis Collins, the founder of BioLogos, was a plenary presenter at the Christian Scholars Conference at Pepperdine Univ., and it was there I heard him speak in person for the first time. How could one not be impressed? I rejoice in the contributions he has made as a scientist and for the clear, positive witness he gives for the Gospel. If the members of the BioLogos Foundation someday demonstrate how evolutionary creationism fits reasonably with a high view of Scripture, a credible approach to Gen 1-3, a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, then I will be the first to take their arguments seriously. I just don’t think they’ve done that yet.
In the first section, Expressing Our Concerns, Dr. Kenneth Keathley named six areas that many Southern Baptists find problematic about BioLogos. This section addresses those concerns.
At the outset, the authors of this response and the entire BioLogos community would like to thank Dr. Keathley not only for his work in writing his introductory essay, but for his willingness to organize a small collection of essays by other Southern Baptist scholars describing their concerns about the BioLogos perspective. We welcome this opportunity to clarify our positions and remove stumbling blocks where possible. We sincerely appreciate the gracious tone of mutual respect that marks Keathley’s essay. His arguments are clear and nuanced in a way that invites thoughtful engagement.
Keathley begins his essay by noting that the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) is silent on the doctrine of Creation, save to affirm God as Creator and the special creation of humans. Certainly BioLogos and all Christians affirm God as Creator and the creator of humans. “Special creation” usually refers to sudden creation, and there we would disagree. BioLogos believes that God created the human body using a gradual, evolutionary process and that creation of humans is God’s supreme act in creation. As in the beginning God willed for us to be, so he still calls us to be today. We are his crowning glory and it doesn’t get more special than that.
Keathley goes on to outline six concerns Southern Baptists have with evolutionary creationism. Some of those six are covered at length in future essays, but others—important ones, such as the status of Adam and Eve and the nature and authority of Scripture—are not. More exchanges may be needed in the future to address these topics in greater detail than we can accomplish here, but we will begin our part of this dialogue with our Southern Baptist friends by making short replies to each of the issues Keathley raises in his opening paper.
Concerns about theological method:
Keathley rightly points out that “Our goal should be more than merely finding a way to reconcile Genesis with the latest discoveries in genetics.” We emphatically agree. Furthermore, we are pleased that Keathley agrees with our argument that evangelical Christians cannot ignore the latest advances in biology, geology, and related fields. We are evangelical Christians ourselves, active in our own local evangelical churches, so it saddens us to observe that our own segment of the Protestant church has not, to date, adequately interacted with the enormous body of evidence for evolution or dealt with its implications in a substantive way. Reconciling Scripture with firmly-established scientific theories ought to be a concern for all Christians in the present age.
“Can one start with the Scriptures and arrive at anything resembling theistic evolution?” Keathley asks. That’s an excellent question. The answer might well be no, but then neither could one start with the Scriptures and arrive at a heliocentric model of our solar system, which virtually all Christians now accept. Four hundred years ago that wasn’t the case because of passages like Psalm 104:5, which says that “[God] set the earth on its foundations.” But as evidence mounted, the church eventually came to see that heliocentrism wasn’t so threatening to the Bible after all, because Scripture wasn’t concerned with providing details about astronomy.
Similarly, could one start with Scripture and arrive at a biological understanding of how a fertilized egg develops into an adult human being? Psalm 139 states that “[God] knit me together in my mother’s womb,” but few would see this as contradictory to the detailed scientific understanding we have today. We all know that we can’t extract scientific information from the Psalms. But, as John Walton powerfully demonstrates in his book The Lost World of Genesis One, we need to rethink the kind of information we’re expecting from the Genesis creation account, as well. We mustn’t seek answers to questions the writers of Scripture weren’t attempting to address. Based on the text itself, it is hard to make a case that Genesis was written to explain how God made our physical bodies.
Keathley wisely warns about the dangers of starting with a scientific conclusion and then looking for biblical sanction. Absolutely, we do need to be careful not to let the scientific tail wag the theological dog, but we suggest that science and theology—both interpretive activities, both based on God’s revelation—speak to each other in mutually enriching ways. While only the Bible provides the knowledge necessary for salvation in Christ, creation itself reveals true knowledge about God’s world including certain details about how God has created. When a scientific theory stands for 150 years with overwhelming support by those who study it, as evolution has, we feel it behooves us as Christians to consider it seriously.
Genesis has only so much hermeneutical elasticity:
As Keathley points out, the number of ways to interpret the early chapters of Genesis has exploded as of late. This explosion has been caused not only by the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge in recent decades—especially in physics and biology—but also by exciting developments in biblical studies and hermeneutics. Of course finding a rich variety of interpretations among faithful Christians is nothing new:
On this subject there are three main views. According to the first, some wish to understand paradise only in a material way. According to the second, others wish to take it only in a spiritual way. According to the third, others understand it both ways, taking some things materially and others spiritually. If I may briefly mention my own opinion, I prefer the third.
—Augustine of Hippo (354-430) De Gen. ad lit VIII, 1:
“On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis”
Keathley maintains that “certain evolutionary creationists ask us to accept more and more fanciful interpretations of Genesis” and then gives an interesting example of how the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib might be explained by an evolutionary creationist. Having never heard this interpretation before, we find it difficult to believe it represents any kind of mainstream evolutionary creationist view on the topic.
At BioLogos, we explore these interpretation questions by engaging top biblical scholars and theologians, not just scientists. We are committed to giving voice to a variety of interpretative ideas for the Genesis passages and encouraging dialogue on these questions. To some, a few of these interpretations might, indeed, come across as “[playing] fast and loose with the biblical text,” but many others are based on serious biblical scholarship taking into account the cultures of the time when the texts were written. Non-concordist views are typically motivated more strongly by an understanding of the context and culture out of which the original text emerged than by a desire for consistency with modern science. We also would ask Keathley to explain more clearly how evolutionary creationists differ from old earth creationists on this question, since old earth creationist interpretations are also not strictly literal.
The connection between natural history and salvation history:
Here Keathley suggests that BioLogos has not articulated well enough how to connect natural history and salvation history. This may be so, and we look forward to exploring this theme more substantially in the future. However, he seems to misunderstand the BioLogos view in a couple of important respects that are worth noting now. Keathley writes,
Southern Baptists affirm that ordinary providence is the way that God generally deals with His creation. But salvation history is discontinuous. It contains many moments in which the events that occur can be understood only as special, unique actions of God. This is why creationists, whether they are [Young Earth Creationist] advocates, or [Old Earth Creationist] advocates, or even [Intelligent Design] proponents, expect to find evidence of discontinuity in the natural record also.
We agree with the above statement regarding ordinary providence and special acts of God in salvation history. BioLogos has in many places affirmed the reality of miracles as described in the Bible, and—importantly—we do not discount the possibility that miracles may have occurred in natural history as well.
We do not, however, see the logic behind expecting to find measurable discontinuity in the natural world simply because God works supernaturally in salvation history. In fact, this expectation seems to go directly against Keathley’s own distinction between the ‘ordinary’ and ‘salvific’ modes of God’s providence. And in any case, God’s regular working through natural laws—the “customs of the Creator” we might say—is not somehow a lesser kind of divine action than miracles.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the biblical miracles do not take place in haphazard fashion; they are in every case linked to some theological purpose (for more on this point, see this paper by Ard Louis). It is difficult to see what theological purpose might be found in a miracle that occurred millions of years before the first humans were around to appreciate it, for example. Still, as stated before, we don’t discount the possibility that God has worked in miraculous ways in natural history.
Keathley goes on to observe that the relationship between BioLogos and the Intelligent Design (ID) community seems hostile. We at BioLogos would not characterize it as such, though we admit to taking markedly different approaches, as we explain here. But the disagreements between BioLogos and the ID community are decidedly not about miracles in salvation history or the truthfulness of Scripture. They are about what we can reasonably expect to discover using the scientific process, what we have discovered, and whether evolution—God’s chosen means of creating, in our view—can account for the rich diversity of life on earth.
We see no biblical reason to view natural processes (including natural selection) as having removed God from the process of creation. It is all God’s and it is all intelligently designed. Those in the ID movement for the most part reject some or all of the major scientific conclusions of evolutionary theory.
The status of Adam and Eve:
Keathley declares the historicity of Adam and Eve to be a “litmus test,” though for what exactly he does not say. Presumably he means a litmus test for biblical orthodoxy, but not for being a Christian. Keathley rightly points to Paul’s argument in Romans 5 as one of the most challenging New Testament passages regarding Adam and Eve, and we have welcomed extensive discussion of it on our website.
BioLogos does not take a firm position on the historicity of Adam and Eve, but welcomes a range of perspectives, as seen in this statement composed by several evangelical leaders at our New York conference. We view the historical details of Adam and the physical details of the Fall as secondary matters of belief and not core beliefs on which all Christians must agree. Meanwhile, we wholeheartedly affirm the core belief that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3) and that the only answer to human sinfulness is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Finally, then, whether or not Adam was a real person is a theological question, not a scientific one; the most science can say is that there was never a time when the human population from which all modern humans descended was as small as two individuals. This fact obviously creates interesting questions regarding the image of God and original sin, but nothing in evolutionary biology precludes the possibility that God began a covenantal relationship with a real, historical first couple who brought about spiritual death as a result of their disobedience.
Keathley paraphrases three of C. John Collins’s criteria for an orthodox understanding of Adam and Eve as laid out in his recent book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?:
- The origin of the human could not have come about by mere natural processes.
- Adam and Eve were “at the headwaters of the human race.”
- A historical fall must have occurred very closely to the beginning of the human race.
Interestingly, Keathley does not include Collins’s fourth criterion, which specifically allows for the possibility of an evolutionary scenario:
If someone should decide that there were, in fact, more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning of mankind, then…he should envision these humans as a single tribe…This tribe “fell” under the leadership of Adam and Eve. This follows from the notion of solidarity in a representative (p121).
By “origin of the human” in (a), Collins means not simply how modern human physiology came about, but how humans came to be made in the image of God. According to Collins, “‘in our image, after our likeness’ [Gen. 1:26] implies that humans were made with some kind of resemblance to God, which was to enable them to represent God as benevolent rulers, and to find their fulfillment in their relationships with each other and with God” (p94). Humans having animal forebears does not, in Collins’s view nor ours, make this description problematic. Since science can only investigate “mere natural processes,” we do not expect that a purely scientific description could ever fully account for the human person.
Paraphrased as it is here, one might mistake (b) to mean that Adam and Eve must be the sole genetic progenitors of all humankind, but given the fourth criterion and further explanation, Collins makes it clear that this isn’t necessary. Rather, he is concerned to avoid “polygenesis,” the idea that humans arose independently in multiple places. Such an idea is unsettling, in his view, because it “[implies] that there are some humans who do not need the Christian message because they are not ‘fallen’—or else that every time God made human beings they ‘fell,’ or that there is some other means of transmitting sin.” As the scientific data currently suggest a single origin for humans (the so-called “out of Africa” model), we need not concern ourselves further on this point here.
As for (c), we do not dispute the occurrence of a historical Fall, though we do not presume to know how exactly it occurred. We have been clear to point out, though, that all physical death is not the result of human sin; many entire species became extinct long before humans appeared on the scene. As Collins points out, “the teeth and claws of a lion are not a decoration, nor have they been perverted from their ‘pre-fall use’” (p116).
In brief, we interpret the Gen. 2:17 threat of death upon disobedience to be that of spiritual death—broken relationships and alienation from God. More will be said on this critical topic when we post the Southern Baptist essays on death and the problem of evil.
The perennial problem of evil:
The problem of evil is indeed a challenge, as it always has been for the church. While the biblical narrative does indicate that death will be conquered forever in the new heavens and new earth, Scripture does not take a universally negative view of suffering and death in the present age. Rather it is recognized as being both a tragedy and a creative force. In John 12, Jesus says,
24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
The agricultural imagery helps us understand that new life comes at a significant cost. Consider also Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-4: “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We don’t glory in suffering for suffering’s sake, but because of the outcome—a hope that doesn’t disappoint.
Not only does suffering ultimately produce hope in the life of individual believers, but as Tertullian observed so long ago, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” God in his mysterious wisdom has chosen to grow his church through great pain and suffering, but he promises to redeem it in the end.
In his essay, Keathley declares that “evolutionary theory presents selfishness as a virtue—perhaps the only virtue. Even altruism is seen as well-disguised selfishness.” While this may represent a popular understanding of evolution, we’d like to point out that any scientific theory is merely descriptive, not prescriptive. The observation that stronger individuals in a population tend to flourish at the expense of weaker ones does not justify a “might makes right” mentality. Any treatment of evolution that presents selfishness as a virtue has ventured outside the realm of science and into philosophy.
The nature and authority of Scripture:
We at BioLogos believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. By the Holy Spirit it is the “living and active” means though which He speaks to the church today, bearing witness to His Son, Jesus, as the divine Logos, or Word of God.
We do not use the words “infallible” or “inerrant” here because these words mean different things to different audiences. Keathley writes that the Bible is “without any mixture of error,” but what does he mean exactly? Are we to take Jesus’ statement that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds as a declaration of scientific fact, when botanists have identified smaller ones? Or was Jesus simply speaking in ways his readers could understand?
We appreciate Keathley pointing out that B.B. Warfield, who wrote so clearly in support of inerrancy, held to theistic evolution. We have posted an excellent two-part series on Warfield’s meaning of the term inerrancy by Michael Horton (here and here). Horton points out that Warfield defined inerrancy as the truthfulness in what the biblical writers were affirming. According to Warfield, “It is true that the Scriptures were not designed to teach philosophy, science, or ethnology, or human history as such, and therefore they are not to be studied primarily as sources of information on these subjects.” This statement may surprise many who take a narrower view of inerrancy. We recommend Horton’s essay without reservation and would be interested to know whether Southern Baptist scholars such as Keathley take issue with it.
Keathley concludes his essay with these words:
If the members of The BioLogos Foundation someday demonstrate how evolutionary creationism fits reasonably with a high view of Scripture, a credible approach to Gen 1-3, a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, then I will be the first to take their arguments seriously.
We hope this essay, and the ones still to come in this series, go some small way toward meeting his challenge. May God’s truth prevail in all our efforts.
Next in Series
Southern Baptist Voices: Essentialism and Evolution
Bruce A. Little agues that essentialism should guide our understanding of human identity. In response, Robert Bishop shares the benefits of a trinitarian and Imago dei approach to human identity.