Of the many contemporary debates pushing and pulling on the Church today, the Creation and Evolution debate is perhaps the most alarming. The New Atheists like Richard Dawkins try to lump any Bible believer in with the crackpots and loonies, while some of the most high-profile creationists spare no punches as they condemn the vast majority of Evangelicalism for any of a number of compromises on this question.
For folks in the pew, the situation is tense: Science continues to raise large questions, and the Church often seems to provide few answers. Many of our youth are pressured to abandon the faith as they encounter new arguments against creation. With at least four major views in Evangelicalism, there is not a strong unified position to lean upon. Most books on the topic defend their particular view and often take aim directly on other sectors of Christianity. These books do more to perpetuate the polarized nature of the debate than provide a clear way forward. And meanwhile it seems that the scientific consensus only continues to become an even larger stumbling-block to Christian faith.
In this context, a variety of new attempts to integrate science and faith have been proposed. Yet for conservative Christians this only raises new questions: How far is too far? What are the limits of integrating faith and science? How important is the age of the earth? Are all forms of evolution out-of-bounds for Christians? What about the Flood—must it be universal? Could animal death have preceded the Fall? What are we to think about Adam and Eve?
These questions and more are addressed in an important new book from Kenneth Keathley and Mark Rooker, professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel, 2015) charts a course through the debate, raising the right questions and providing many answers. A big burden behind this book is just to survey the positions that are being adopted by Evangelical leaders today. The authors carefully lay out the evidence (good and bad) for each of these positions. Keathley approaches the matter from a young-earth creationist (YEC) perspective, and Rooker adopts an old-earth (OEC) view, but each author takes pains to speak charitably of the other positions and honestly about the difficulties of his own view. Their irenic candor and careful grappling with the major positions makes this book a joy to read.
Each chapter functions as a stand-alone treatment of a particular question. These questions are loosely arranged by topic. The first two parts focus on the doctrine of Creation in general (and its role in Scripture), and then in particular about the exegetical details in Gen. 1-2. Following this is a section on the Days of Creation. Here the following positions are examined:
- The Gap theory
- The Day-Age theory
- The Framework theory
- The Temple Inauguration theory
- The Historical Creationism theory (or Promised Land theory)
- The Twenty-Four Hour theory
Following this is a section on the age of the Earth. Here the genealogies and the arguments for and against an old earth are examined. In addition, the question of distant starlight gets special treatment. Included here is an examination of the mature creation argument. The next section focuses on the Fall and the Flood. The image of God and the idea of Original Sin are fleshed out here. The final section focuses on evolution and intelligent design. A history of Darwinism is provided along with its key supporting arguments. Challenges to evolution are also presented (often from atheistic scientists who still hold to common descent). The question of theistic evolution is also addressed. Finally discussion of the “fine-tuning argument” highlights the special place our Earth holds in the universe.
This book is over 400 pages long, so I only have time to point out some highlights.
Careful Analysis of the Debate: I was struck by the careful analysis of why Evangelicals disagree so much on this issue. Concordism and non-concordism are addressed, and so is the matter of presuppositions. The authors stress that while old-earth creationists (OEC) share many of the same presuppositions as young-earth creationists (YEC), they do not share the view that a YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the “only interpretation available to the Bible-believing Christian” (p. 20). YEC adherents really do often hold this as a presupposition and so their position is basically fideism: “if one’s presuppositions are unassailable, then his approach has shifted from presuppositionalism to fideism” (p. 21). OEC proponents allow more room for empiricism, which “allows experience and evidence to have a significant role in the formation of one’s position” (p. 21). This philosophical difference lies beneath the OEC vs. YEC debate and recognizing this can help in understanding the mindset of each alternate view.
Helpful Discussion of Each Major View: The discussions of each view are extremely helpful. Careful arguments are presented for each view, and then answered. The authors show how most scholars have good reasons to reject the Gap theory today, but they point out the fascinating history of this position (which dates back to the seventeenth century). By the mid-twentieth century, Bernhard Ramm could say that the gap theory was “the standard interpretation throughout Fundamentalism” (p. 112). The Day-Age theory is dismissed as treating “Genesis 1 as though its purpose is to provide a detailed, scientifically verifiable model of cosmic origins,” which hardly seems in keeping with “its ancient context” (p. 126). The Framework theory doesn’t have “a single theological truth” dependent on its unique reading of the text (p. 134). The authors have an uneasy assessment of the Temple Inauguration theory. They seem to revel in the connections between Eden and the Temple, but think Walton’s particular view says too much without enough explicit textual warrant. I note the odd argument that it makes “more biblical sense” that the Israelites believed “God lived in heaven both before and after the creation week” (p. 145). This prevents us from seeing creation as God’s need for a physical habitat to rest in. But didn’t God create heaven in the creation week? The authors seem intrigued by John Sailhamer’s Historical Creation theory. They raise objections but imagine others finding satisfactory answers to them. The Twenty-Four Hour theory certainly is more clearly defended, but strong objections are also raised. A mediating view is also presented that may well be Rooker’s own view: that the 24 hour days are to be seen as literally 24-hour days, but used metaphorically in the text. This whole section is worth the price of the book - the debate is laid out and dispassionately treated in a clear manner that provides directions for further study in a variety of directions.
Excellent on the Age of the Earth: I also appreciated the discussion of the age of the earth. The authors point out that the young-earth/flood geology position has only recently become the predominant Evangelical view. Prior to The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris (1961), there had been over a hundred years of Evangelical Christians who held to an old earth. Some discussions of the history of the YEC position devolve into an all-out mockery of the YEC position. This book is honest about the history (and the large role played by George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist and geologist), but does not smear the YEC position with “guilt-by-association.” The major arguments put forth in Whitcomb and Morris’ book continue to be widely repeated today, but many of them have been forsaken by modern YEC proponents: the water-vapor canopy, a “small universe” (to allow for distant starlight), the Fall causing the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), and even the human and dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy River (p. 196). The scientific arguments for a young earth are actually quite tenuous. On the flip side, the scientific arguments for an old earth seem quite strong. Having studied this issue in some depth previously, I still found new arguments and considerations presented here. The authors also quote YEC authors who are also honest about the weakness of the scientific evidence. As an example, John Morris (Henry Morris’ son and successor) has admitted “he knows of no scientist who has embraced a young earth on the basis of the empirical evidence alone” (p. 198). The Biblical case for a young earth, in contrast, is quite strong. Even though the genealogies in Scripture are by no means air-tight nor intended to be strictly chronological, “we still have the impression… that not an enormous amount of time has passed since the beginning of creation” (p. 176). The authors conclude on this matter: “The conclusion must be that, though a cursory reading of Scripture would seem to indicate a recent creation, the preponderance of empirical evidence seems to indicate otherwise” (p. 224).
Conservative yet Open on the Effects of the Fall: The book does draw hard and fast lines, and one of them is the historicity of Adam and Eve. This is ultimately a matter of “biblical authority” (p. 242), and it becomes a “litmus test” for Christians who would want to advocate some evolutionary position (p. 378). The question of the Fall and its impact is perhaps the most important question that divides the OEC and YEC views. They see the Fall as the historical moment of Original Sin, yet animal death before the Fall and the Fall’s impact on the natural creation are more open to reconsideration. The “notion of animal death existing prior to Adam’s fall does not appear to be, theologically speaking, an insurmountable problem” (p. 261). On the Fall’s impact on creation: “YEC proponents seem to be dogmatic about a position which, upon closer examination, appears to be more speculative than they have been willing to admit” (p. 269-270).
Critical of Evolution: As an eager reader of the book, I was challenged by this section, perhaps the most. The discussion on evolution will not encourage any simplistic acceptance of evolution. The authors’ introduce many of the problems to the standard Darwinian model that have been raised of late. Intelligent design is also carefully explained. More space could be given to scientific responses to these new challenges, perhaps, but the section does a good job pointing out the questions which still surround the mechanics of evolution. As for Christians wanting to embrace some sort of evolutionary model (not based on naturalistic Darwinian assumptions), the authors present three essential points that must be maintained:
- The uniqueness of the human race to possess and reflect the divine image.
- The unity of the human race.
- The historicity of the original couple and their disobedience. (p. 378)
This book will prove to be helpful for those who want to survey the state of this debate in Evangelicalism today. The authors don’t sugarcoat the controversy and are at times painfully honest. They bring a wealth of research together, surveying the historical background to the controversy and marshal an impressive array of scientific arguments for and against each major position. Some may not appreciate how certain positions are embraced tentatively. Yet others will see this as a strength. Some will fault the authors for going too far, others will scoff at some of the attention drawn to what they consider obscure arguments for a young earth. The book will challenge those pushing the envelope and vying for unflinching acceptance of evolution in all its forms. It will also challenge those who pick and choose among the scientific studies - cherry picking anything that supports their YEC position and ignoring the rest. Above all, the book brings us back to the Bible and the text itself - what exactly does it affirm and how should that shape our consideration of these questions.
Ultimately this book calls for greater unity and charity in this debate. It is precisely here that this book is most needed. YEC proponents too often come across as abrasive, and their arguments seem to lack “tentativeness” or humility. OEC apologists can easily get caught up in the intramural debate and continue the caustic harsh tone. All of this is not only off-putting, but unhelpful. This book presents an alternative and a possible step forward. I trust it will make a contribution toward more light and less heat on this perennially thorny issue. I highly recommend it.
About the authors
Kenneth D. Keathley (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of theology and director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was previously professor of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Keathley is also the author of Salvation and Soverignty: A Molinist Approach.
Mark F. Rooker (PhD, Brandeis University) is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has previously taught at Moscow Theological Seminary, Criswell College, And Dallas Theological Seminary. Rooker is Author of several books on Old Testament and Hebrew language topics.
Bob Hayton has a BA in Pastoral Theology with a Greek emphasis and a MA in Bible from Fairhaven Baptist College and Seminary in Chesterton, IN. He is a happily married father of seven who resides in St. Paul, MN. Since 2005, he has been blogging theology at FundamentallyReformed.com, where he has also published over 190 book reviews. He can also be found occasionally at KJVOnlyDebate.com.