Review: Evolutionary Creation
Work under Review
As indicated by its title, this primarily theological work is aimed at the Christian anti-evolution audience and at Christians who accept evolution but want to think further about how that acceptance comports, or can be made to comport, with their faith. Denis Lamoureux (who holds doctorates in both theology and biology) is to be thanked for this attempt to persuade young-earth creationists (YECs), by a close examination of the Bible, science, and history, that the expectations they have of the first eleven chapters of the Bible are simply wrong. Furthermore, he contends that their widely held beliefs are also detrimental to Christianity because their mistakes throw up stumbling blocks in the way of the scientifically literate who might have an interest in this faith. His “in” with this audience is that he is a passionate Evangelical Christian and makes no apologies for boldly affirming his faith in Jesus. His intimate familiarity with the audience he wants so desperately to move in the direction of accepting the reality of evolution will certainly help.
My optimism, however, about how influential this work will be is tempered by how seemingly ineffective other similar attempts have been. Lamoureux is asking his intended YEC audience to swallow a very large pill. From having been a YEC, I know that most will choke on Lamoureux’s central argument, which is that the science and history in Genesis Chapters 1–11 represent only the “science and history of the day.” They are not factual but rather only “incidental vessels”, which nevertheless deliver divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths. But for many Christians, the Bible, divinely inspired, is historically and scientifically accurate on any subject on which it speaks. They consider anathema the notion that the Genesis accounts of creation, the origin of humans, the Flood, and the origin of languages are all wrong. Young-earth creationists do not take kindly to the notion that what they believe to be literally true and scientifically accurate are no more than incidental vessels. Although the original Hebrew audience had no reason not to believe the science and history of their day, Lamoureux is asking YECs not to believe this intuitive and originally intended interpretation of Genesis; he is to be commended for doing his best to fight an uphill battle.
YECs will be quick to ask: If the Genesis stories are only incidental vessels, what is our guarantee that the faith and spiritual components of these stories are true? For the vast majority of young-earth creationists, if the tangible scientific and historic elements of Genesis 1–11 are shown not to be true, then they no longer prove the trustworthiness and accuracy of the parts of the story that are not scientifically testable. In their mind, if the Bible gets its science and history wrong, then there is no reason to place any confidence in those parts of the Bible that demand faith (they possess a conditional faith). But to a YEC it is even more devastating than this, because if all ancient Biblical stories related to Creation and the Flood are wrong, those errors suggest that the divinely inspired eternal spiritual truths are also not true. If this is the case, then the burden of proof in the trustworthiness of the Bible as having had a divine origin increases to an uncomfortable level. This terrifying thought is accompanied by a dreaded realization that the hand of atheists and skeptics might just have been strengthened.
What Lamoureux is asking YECs to do with Genesis would be akin to also asking them to believe that none of the miracles that Jesus did were done as they are recorded in the Gospels. The miracles are the guarantor that Jesus was who he claimed to be, God incarnate, and that his spiritual and intangible claims are also to be taken seriously. Consider the New Testament account of when John the Baptist was imprisoned and he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was “…the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:18–23). At the time this narrative took place it is evident that John was struggling to reconcile his mission with his imprisonment. The important point here is that Jesus confirmed his authenticity and credentials as the “one who was to come” (that is, their Messiah) through the miracles that he performed. The witnessed and verifiable miracles guaranteed that Jesus was the Messiah.
But what if Jesus had simply said to John’s disciples: “Sorry, no miraculous signs; absolutely nothing out of the ordinary here. John is simply going to have to believe that I am the ‘one who was to come.’” What would John have done with that news, and would we know about Jesus today? But it is this very lack of tangible proof (both scientific and historic) in Genesis that Lamoureux is expecting YECs to overlook and yet still accept the spiritual truths as having had a divine origin. Instead of making the paradigm shift, many YECs will prefer to continue to retreat into denial and refuse to relinquish their anti-evolutionary mindset.
I agree with Lamoureux that Genesis represents the science and history of the day, but he should have emphasized more forcefully that it also reflects the religious and spiritual level of understanding of the day. Genesis does not present all there is to know about God. The Bible itself documents a progressive (an evolutionary-like) revelation of God, as that understanding continues to grow and change even today.
As valuable as this book would be to conservative Christian students, it will not likely darken the door of any American public school. Lamoureux’s bold profession of faith in and love for Jesus will ensure that it is kept at bay. Nevertheless, I will be recommending this book to anyone who might have even the slightest interest in moving from an anti-evolutionary world view.
Stephen J Godfrey
Department of Paleontology
Calvert Marine Museum
PO Box 97
Solomons MD 20688
Stephen J Godfrey is the Curator of Paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum and Research Collaborator at the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. His latest book is Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, co-authored with Christopher R Smith (Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2005).