Jan 19, 2011
neil

Keller, Stott, Packer and theistic evolution

Wouldn’t life be simple if before Darwin came along all Christians interpreted Genesis 1-3 as literal history.  The following quote from Origen, written around 231 AD, shows how far from the truth such a view of church history would be.

Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars— the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

What Origen, one of the great church Fathers, makes apparent is that as long as there has been a church there have existed a whole variety of views on how to handle the early chapters of Genesis.  All held with a passion by Bible-believing Christians.

Luther writes in the introduction to this Commentary on Genesis of chapter one:
There has not been anyone in the church who has explained everything in the chapter with adequate skill.

And so it is then that in our own day a growing number of Christians both eminent scientists and leading churchmen who are making a case for the compatibility of the early chapters of Genesis with the theory of evolution. I want today to draw attention to three leading Christian Biologists and three world-renowned Christian Pastors and theologians by way of a sample. At this stage I’m not seeking to comment on their views.

Science

Leading evangelical scientists who have written in support of theistic evolution include:

Dr. Francis Collins – A physician and geneticist who was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health (US) by President Obama. He is a winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honour given by the president, for revolutionizing genetic research) and has also received the National Medal of Science. He is the author of The Language of God and founder of the Biologos Forum.

Dr. Dennis Alexander – The Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where he is a Fellow. For many years he was Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme in Cambridge. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science & Christian Belief. He is the author of Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?

Professor R.J. Berry – Professor of Genetics at Univeristy College London between 1974-2000 and winner of the Templeton UK Individual Award for progress in religion. He has written God and the Biologist: Faith at the Frontiers of Science.

Church leaders

We might not be surprised to find scientists who believe endorsing an evolutionary model of creation but what may be surprising to  us are the growing number of high-profile, well respected pastors and theologians who are ready to recognize evolution as a model compatible with the Genesis account.

Tim Keller – Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York. In his New York Times Top 10 book The Reason for God he writes:

For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory. (p.94)

For a fuller statement from Keller visit here.

John Stott – Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, London. Time magazine, as recently as 2005, voted John Stott as one of the 100 most influencial people in the world.

Stott writes in his BST commentary on Romans:

The evidence of Genesis 2-4 is that Adam was a Neolithic farmer. The New Stone Age ran from about 10,000 to 6,000 BC.

When considering the human fossil record and skeleton record he concludes by suggesting that homo habilis and homo erectus were:

All pre-Adamic hominids, still homo sapiens and not yet homo divines, if we may so style Adam .

JI Packer – British born theologian and author. In 2005 Time magazine voted him one of the 25 most influencial evangelicals in North America.

The following is taken from Wikipedia entry on Packer and evolution:

In 2008 Packer wrote an endorsement for a book called ‘Creation or Evolution: Do We have to Choose?’ by Denis Alexander. The book advocates theistic evolution and is critical of Intelligent Design. Packer said of the book: ‘Surely the best informed, clearest and most judicious treatment of the question in its title that you can find anywhere today.’ This perhaps reveals Packer’s current position in the evolution/intelligent design debate.

However, he has also expressed caution as to whether the theory of evolution is actually true, ‘its only a hypothesis… its only a guess… so as science, in terms of philosophy of science… evolution is by no means proven and as a guess it is very strange and contrary to all analogies…‘ He also said, ‘the biblical narratives of creation… don’t obviously say anything that bears one way or another on the question of whether the evolutionary hypothesis might be true or not…

The most recent information on Packer’s position on evolution comes from his foreword to Reclaiming Genesis by Melvin Tinker. Reclaiming Genesis is a ‘pro-evolution’ book with the subtitle ‘The Theatre of God’s Glory – Or a Scientific Story?’ in it Packer writes “Melvin Tinker is fully on wavelength in this lively and enlivening series of expositions. His book is wise, popular, and powerful. I heartily commend it.”

5 Comments

  • Ah, so easy to spot cultural implausibility structures in those of other generations! Scarily anti-physical stuff from Origen: I mean, any idiot can see that God can’t go walking round on earth in a physical body… Harder to see what lenses we’re looking through, now, saying, ‘Only an idiot could think that…’.

  • Thanks for this Neil, I look forward to hearing your thoughts as they come.
    As much as it is flattering for the wikepedia artical to reference my father’s book, Reclaiming Genesis, may I do my filial duty in pointing out that the book is not about science and creation, but, as the sub-title suggests, a series of expositions on Genesis 1-11, seeking to put the creation debate in secondry place for a moment and bask in the wonder of what Calvin calls ‘The Theatre of God’s Glory’ as encountered in these chapters.

    Thanks, and perhaps people may enjoy the read as I did!

    Phil

    • Hi Philip. That’s really helpful – I will edit the post to clarify that fact. As it happens my copy of your dad’s book arrived yesterday and I’ve enjoyed the first few chapters. Although, as you rightly point out, it is not a book directly addressing the science and evolution debate the Preface is a really helpful overview of the different positions on the Genesis account by Bible-believing Christians. It’s also interesting to note that the endorsement on the front cover is by Dr. Denis Alexander and the first two on the back cover are a fuller quote by Alexander followed by one from Professor Berry. It’s interesting that the publisher wanted to highlight scientists ahead of the theologians for a book that is a series of expositions. Maybe they thought it would sell more copies!

  • [...] interesting discussion on ‘A Faith To Live By’ blog here, [...]

  • [...] it looks like he did). Origen, St. Augustine, John Calvin (paragraph 15), C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright, B.B. Warfield (or see Calvin link), Alister McGrath, Derek Kidner, Mark Knoll, John [...]

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