NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the study of the origin of humans, ultimately what is true in the physical world will be perfectly consistent with scripture, a Southern Baptist seminary professor said in an essay arguing against theistic evolution.
James Dew, assistant professor of the history of ideas and philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the most recent writer to engage The BioLogos Foundation in a series titled “Southern Baptist Voices,” online at BioLogos.org.
In his essay “Teleological Arguments, Theistic Evolution and Intelligent Design,” Dew cited some basic concerns Southern Baptists have with theistic evolution. Southern Baptists, he said, are not convinced that macroevolution is actually true.
Many well-credentialed scientists have found significant problems with macroevolution, Dew wrote, yet it does not appear such evidence is being taken seriously by those who hold to evolution.
Southern Baptists can allow some flexibility in the interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, but the interpretations offered by theistic evolutionists are not convincing, Dew wrote.
Also, Southern Baptists are uncomfortable with the way theistic evolution portrays God’s creative activity, the professor wrote in the essay, posted May 28.
“As I read certain theistic evolutionists, I often get the feeling that God is being pushed out of the creative process of living creatures,” Dew wrote. “God is allowed, and even needed, to explain the origins of the universe itself. But as [BioLogos founder] Francis Collins explains, ‘Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.’
“… As they see it, God directly caused the universe to come into existence, but once it was here, natural processes took care of the rest.” If, as theistic evolutionists believe, God was directly involved in the creation of the universe, the prayer life of the saints and miraculous events such as the resurrection of Christ, Dew wrote, then “Why is it problematic to say that He was directly involved in populating the earth with various life forms?”
Darwinism challenged the dominance of design arguments, Dew wrote, and many Southern Baptists believe Intelligent Design challenges evolutionary thought.
“We find signs of intelligence on a large scale by looking at the universe,” Dew wrote. “We also find signs of intelligence by looking at the smallest parts of nature that suggest evidence of fine-tuning.”
In his two-part response on behalf of BioLogos, Ard Louis, a reader in theoretical physics and a Royal Society University research fellow at the University of Oxford, said Dew’s “gracious tone invites real dialogue.”
A more careful reading of the first few chapters of Genesis, Louis wrote, suggests that it “was never meant to be read as a journalistic account with chronological days. For example, the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day. You don’t need modern science to tell you that having a literal morning and evening without a sun doesn’t make much sense.”
Genesis, Louis wrote, “in no way requires us to assume that God could not create the natural world through His ordinary action,” as opposed to the supernatural action of creating Adam and Eve specifically.
Evangelicals have not invested nearly enough effort or energy into higher learning, Louis wrote, so “there is no trusted community of scholars to help the church adjudicate on such complex multi-disciplinary questions” as macroevolution.
“We rely far too much on single individuals. It can’t just be scientists on their own, or theologians on their own, or the church on its own,” Louis wrote. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is any short-term fix to this problem.”
The vast majority of Christian scientists Louis knows who work professionally in fields related to evolutionary biology, he said, “are pretty convinced that processes like mutations and selection played an important role in the emergence of biological complexity.”
“But without a proper forum or tradition of engagement between the academy and the church, such an argument from authority is, with some justification, probably not enough to dislodge longstanding suspicions that Southern Baptists may have about evolution,” Louis wrote.
Southern Baptist pastors, Louis said, should realize that recent developments in the genetic evidence for evolution will be “much easier for bright teenagers in their congregations to understand than more traditional evidence for evolution based on the fossil record.”
“I predict young believers will start asking more and more questions in the midst of their churches – your churches. My hope is that you, their pastors, will respond to this development by creating space for those who believe, as we do at BioLogos, that mainstream science, properly interpreted, is compatible with evangelical Christian faith,” Louis wrote.
Dew, the Southeastern Seminary assistant professor, expressed optimism that an ongoing conversation about the origin of humans would be beneficial.
“Southern Baptists normally reject theistic evolution. Nevertheless, it is important that we dialogue about these issues and that we do so in a Christlike fashion,” Dew said in a statement to Baptist Press.
“If God created the universe and inspired the Bible, then surely our theology and science will be consistent with each other,” Dew said. “Though we have some theological/philosophical concerns with their position, we are thankful that Biologos invited us to share these concerns and we respect them for their openness.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)