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Books of the Year

Two new books are important responses to the rapidly growing promotion of theistic- or, more properly, deistic-evolution

Books of the Year

(Photo by James Allen Walker for WORLD)

WORLD has chosen a Daniel of the Year since 1998 and a Book of the Year since 2008. Since the variety of candidates is enormous, sometimes we look at where the battle is hottest and pick someone who stands firm in Christian witness when it would be easier to duck. For example, in 2007 we chose Wanda Cohn, director of a Florida pregnancy care center, both for her own work and as a representative of the thousands who offer counsel to abortion-prone young women. Several times we've chosen Christians who persevere against Islamic aggression.

It's also hard to choose a Book of the Year, so here as well we tend to see what's under assault. In 2008 and 2009 the "new atheism" of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins was picking up speed, so we chose Tim Keller's The Reason for God; in 2009, the ESV Study Bible. Last year, following passage of "Obamacare," the drive to expand Washington's power had still not suffered a major setback, so Arthur Brooks' The Battle, which described federal governmental expansion and proposed ways to stop it, was our Book of the Year.

This year we're looking at neither the depths of Scripture, nor the surface of politics and economics, but the middle ground: ideas about the nature of man and the world. Think about the three main intellectual influencers of the 20th century: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Charles Darwin. Two of the three-Freud and Marx-have lost most of their influence. The exception is Darwin. Two years ago his millions of fans celebrated the bicentennial of his birth, which was also the 150th anniversary of his famous book On the Origins of Species.

Today, the overwhelming majority of American kids receive a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian education. They learn at schools and then colleges that they are just matter, the result of occasional mutations and survival of the fittest. Christians over the decades have debated whether the earth's history should be measured in thousands or billions of years, but-until recently-almost all stuck by the biblical account of God creating every kind of plant and animal in six days (perhaps longer than 24 hours). Almost all believed that God created Adam from dust, and Eve from Adam.

For decades an attempt to make Darwinism acceptable to Christians, "theistic evolution" (TE), lurked in the background but made almost no inroads among Bible believers. A December 1997 article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society-"Theistic Evolution: Deism Revisited"-began by observing that TE "has not proven to be the mediating position once hoped for." Taylor University professor Michael A. Harbin noted that Bible scholars criticized TE for being unbiblical and "more deistic than theistic."

TE did not make much readily visible progress over the next six years. In 2008 TE proponent and blogger Steve Martin (not the comedian) rhetorically asked how many TE books at a popular reading level were published in North America prior to 2003? His answer: "None. A big fat zero. Zilch." Then came the deluge. Martin listed 10 popular books published between 2004 and 2008 by authors like Darrel Falk, Owen Gingerich, Karl Giberson, and-most notably-Francis Collins.

The Language of God, by genome pioneer Collins, became a bestseller. Collins himself became director of the National Institutes of Health. As Martin put it, "very few evangelicals have the time, energy, and focus to 1) thoroughly investigate the evidence from biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and related scientific disciplines and 2) navigate the maze of Ancient Near East cultural history, ancient Hebrew linguistics, Christian Theology, Biblical Studies, and Old Testament exegesis." The natural tendency is to rely on the testimony of a winsome, credible scientist like Collins.

That's particularly the case when said scientist's school of thought is well-funded, while those from different perspectives search for crumbs. Since 2008 Collins' BioLogos Foundation-which, according to its website, "celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith"-has been TE's leading promoter. Its well-designed BioLogos Forum, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, has been the leading TE website for TE speculation.

Templeton has made multimillion-dollar grants to BioLogos and a host of other TE proponents: Those who read pro-evolution essays often see the tagline, "supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation." Money has helped to fuel TE's recent advance (see sidebar), but so has backing from many members of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of professing Christians, and from some biology departments within historically Christian colleges.

TE proponents say its popularity in those precincts is because their theory is true. Opponents note that it is extraordinarily hard and painful for scientists who are Christian to stand up against the conventional wisdom. "Publish or perish" is still the rule at many academic institutions, and Christians who oppose TE increasingly have to search for publishing venues. In February, InterVarsity Press put out the first of a planned series of TE books with Francis Collins as co-author.

The problem, though, is that many theistic evolutionists should rightly be called deistic evolutionists, since they believe that God created the first life-form and then left the rest to standard Darwinian processes. Theoretically a theistic evolutionist could also believe in God's creation of each of the trillions and quadrillions of mutations that led to today's world, but that would also be rewriting the Bible-and we're still left with the issue of Adam and Eve's direct creation. In any event, mathematician Bill Dembski sums up well the standard TE position: "Theistic evolution takes the Darwinian picture of the biological world and baptizes it."

And so we come to our co-Books of the Year-one American, one British, because the push for Darwin is strong on both sides of the Atlantic. (Britain's Bible Society distributed copies of the TE tome Rescuing Darwin to 20,000 church leaders, and the Anglican Church published an official apology to Darwin for challenging his theory 150 years ago.)

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (published first in England, republished in the United States by P&R in May, and edited by British medical geneticist Norman Nevin) contains excellent theological essays-but given the influence of Francis Collins, the more influential essays may be those that undermine the contention that genome mapping shows irrefutably that man and great apes had common ancestors.

In one of the essays, scientist Geoff Barnard notes, "the wide variety of chromosomal variations that clearly exist between the human and chimpanzee, dictate against the thesis that these species have common ancestry." In another, Nevin and Phil Hills show that "the fused chromosome is unique to the human and is not found in the great apes . . . the numerous chromosomal variations between the human and chimpanzee suggest that these species do not have common ancestry."

Barnard takes on what theistic evolutionists like to claim as evidence of evolution, "junk DNA." He notes, "It is becoming increasingly apparent that non-protein coding DNA, including the pseudogenes, may perform important biological roles." Nevin emphasizes from the fossil record what theistic evolutionists tend to skip by, the Cambrian explosion: That's when "many animal forms and body plans (representing new phyla, subphyla and classes) arose in a brief geological period. The evidence points to the appearance of many new animal forms and body plans . . . with no fossil evidence that they branched off from common ancestors."

The irony in the current TE surge, as former Westminster Chapel pastor R.T. Kendall points out, is that "science is always changing. A scientific dictionary nowadays is out of date in ten years, and yet theologians keep running after modern science." Our other co-Book of the Year, God and Evolution (Discovery Institute Press), also notes that Collins' assertions several years ago concerning "junk DNA" have already been shown to be erroneous: This "junk" regulates the timing of DNA replication, tags sites that need their genetic material rearranged, guides RNA splicing and editing, helps chromosomes fold properly, and regulates embryo development.

Collins, since he is the leader of those who recycle concepts of God as divine watchmaker rather than creator, receives ample criticism from God and Evolution editor Jay Richards. When Collins complains of those who portray "the Almighty as a clumsy Creator, having to intervene at regular intervals to fix the inadequacies of His own initial plan," Richards wonders why it would be beneath God's dignity to be involved in the world: "Perhaps He desires a world that is more like a violin than a self-winding watch, an instrument he can play. . . . Maybe He wants a world that exhibits a certain predictable regularity, but is by no means closed to His direct influence. . . . Maybe God is like a hobbyist, who enjoys having a 'work in progress.'"

Molecular biologist Jonathan Wells similarly turns on its head the frequent TE claim that growing scientific knowledge squeezes more and more the position of those who rely on God to explain mysteries. Wells writes, "Instead of supporting Darwinian evolution, the new DNA evidence actually undercuts it. Indeed, the more we learn about our genome, the less tenable Darwin's theory becomes. Collins is clinging to a 'Darwin of the gaps' position that becomes more precarious with each new discovery."

Should Christians Embrace Evolution? and God and Evolution are both worth reading, but are they the very best books published since last June? Hard to be definitive on that, but they are both at the center of the biggest current battle both among Christians and between Christian and anti-Christian thought. As University of Chicago atheist Jerry Coyne declares, "to make evolution palatable to Americans, you must show that it is not only consistent with religion, but also no threat to it." Theistic evolutionists are the pointed end of Darwinians' wedge strategy: By making evolution "theistic" Darwinians hope to divide Christian against Christian.

Collins' winsomeness and Templeton money have escalated recent TE success among evangelicals, but so has concern about evangelism. A recent BioLogos essay by Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor pastor Ken Wilson-"supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation"-noted the red/blue division in American politics and argued that "people of blue sensibilities are not coming to our churches in droves." The reason, according to Wilson, is that a blue believer in evolution and global warming will not come for fear of being criticized.

Wilson pleaded with his readers, "I am not asking what you think about these matters of science. Because in this case what you think is less relevant to your ability to be effective in the mission field than how you feel." That's a passionate point, but a plaque over the kitchen sink in a house I've visited declares, "You have a choice: To live in your knowings or to live in your feelings." Evangelicals who know what the Bible says may feel like ignoring the first two chapters of Genesis in the interests of evangelism, but if we are "successful" in growing churches by that method, to which God are converts coming?

Retired University of California law professor Phillip Johnson speaks of "the church of Darwin" and notes that most Americans are still dissenters. Despite decades of public-school control, Darwinians have won little of their captive audience to their opinion. Gallup polls show that only one in seven Americans agrees that "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process."

Slightly over 50 percent of those polled, though, have agreed with this statement: "God created human beings in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it." Darwinists have been unable to beat that belief with the vision of biologist Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Sciences: "Humans are more like worms than we ever imagined." Few love the summary of University of California biology professor Charles Zuker: "In essence, we are nothing but a big fly."

Theistic evolution is Darwinists' hope for a breakthrough, but it's an attempt to synthesize the antithetical. And one question more: A generation ago Francis Schaeffer logically wrote (Genesis in Space and Time) that with evolution "man has lost his unique identity. . . . A Christian does not have this problem. He knows who he is. If anything is a gift from God, this is it-knowing who you are." Will this generation of Christians relinquish God's gift?

Read chapter 1 of God and Evolution (download PDF). The excerpt is also available for iPad users through WORLD's iPad app.

A man or a myth?

Our two books of the year have many fine chapters, but the most important one in Should Christians Embrace Evolution? is probably chapter 3, "Adam and Eve," written by Michael Reeves, theological head of Britain's Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship.

That's because most theistic evolutionists have no room in their Darwinist theory for the special creation of Adam and Eve. They say either that Adam and Eve had "souls" inserted into their bodies while they were part of a herd of hominids, or that-as a BioLogos website article theorized-they "were not individual historical characters, but represented a larger population of first humans who bore the image of God."

And yet, as Reeves shows, "far from being a peripheral matter for fussy literalists, it is biblically and theologically necessary for Christians to believe in Adam as first, a historical person who second, fathered the entire human race." One reason such belief is essential stems from the New Testament affirmations of the early chapters of Genesis, and their centrality to our understanding of Christ's sacrifice:

In Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6, Jesus refers to the creation of Adam and Eve as if they were real historical events.

In chapter 3 of his Gospel, Luke's genealogy assigns a father to everyone except Adam, whom Luke calls "the son of God."

In Acts 17:26, speaking before a very tough crowd, the Athenian Areopagus, Paul says, "From one man He made all the nations."

In Romans 5:12-21 Paul refers to the sin of "the one man, Adam" and the sinlessness of the one man, Christ. Paul cites Adam in the same way he refers to Christ. (Pundits ridiculed Dan Quayle during the 1992 campaign when they said he spoke of the television character Murphy Brown as if she were a real person.)

In 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 Paul refers to Eve's special creation: "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man." In 1 Timothy 2:13 he does the same: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."

In 1 Corinthians 15:22 Paul similarly treats Adam as an actual person and parallels him to Jesus: "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

Reeves notes that the apostle Paul's "logic would fall apart if he was comparing a historical man (Christ) to a mythical or symbolic one (Adam). If Adam and his sin were mere symbols, then there would be no need for a historical atonement; a mythical atonement would be necessary to undo a mythical fall. With a mythical Adam, then, Christ might as well be-in fact, would do better to be-a symbol of divine forgiveness and new life."

The battle is between biblical Christianity and theological liberalism, which views Adam as mythical and Jesus as symbolic. For that reason Reeves, leaving himself open to condemnation from those who would fudge the issues, points out that debates about Adam and Eve are "inescapably foundational in that they really represent a debate between the Christian gospel and an entirely different approach to God and salvation."

Read all of chapter 3 of Should Christians Embrace Evolution? (download PDF). The excerpt is also available for iPad users through WORLD's iPad app.

Buy the book: Links to purchase the books featured in WORLD's 2011 Books Issue

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Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.