Simon Turpin reviews Denis O. Lamoureux’s Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes! (Zondervan; 2016; ISBN: 9780310526445).
Over recent years, influential evangelical theologian and scientist Dr Denis Lamoureux has been actively promoting evolutionary creation. In his new book Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes! Lamoureux offers a number of explanations to justify his belief in evolutionary creation. This review focuses on several key issues raised by the book.
Lamoureux begins by describing his journey from young-earth creationist (YEC) to evolutionary creationist. Early in his life, Lamoureux believed he had to make a choice between believing in evolution or in creation and now asks his readers:
‘Why couldn’t the God of Christianity have used evolution as his method to create the universe and life? And a related question: Is there a godly way to read the account of creation in Genesis that isn’t literal?’
First, YECs argue that the whole point of Darwinian evolution is to show that there is no need for a supernatural Creator, since nature can do the creating by itself. Evolutionary creation is an attempt to synthesise evolution and the Christian faith, which, YECs contend, invents a syncretistic creator-God of one’s own imagination. In other words, the God of evolutionary creation is not the God of the Bible.
Second, the question is not, ‘Is there another way to read Genesis that isn’t literal’ (which is a caricature of YECs), but rather, ‘What does the text of Genesis say and teach?’ Sound exegesis of Genesis 1 leads to the conclusion that its author intended to teach that God created everything in one week (Exodus 20:8–11).
In order to defend the theory of evolution, Lamoureux places God’s general revelation in nature (God’s works) in the same category as his special revelation in Scripture (God’s words).
However, the evidence a scientist finds in nature is always interpreted according to a philosophical and religious worldview, and this is particularly the case when a scientist is trying to reconstruct the unobserved, unrepeatable past to learn about origins.
The predominant worldview controlling scientists today is naturalism, the philosophical and religious idea that nature is all there is and everything can be explained by time plus chance, plus the laws of nature. But we must keep in mind that sin has affected our minds and, therefore, how we view natural revelation (Romans 1:21, 28).
Man’s rebellion against and alienation from God distorts his thinking. As theologian Louis Berkhof states: ‘Since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from his general revelation, only if he studies it in the light of Scripture’. It is therefore necessary to interpret natural revelation in the light of special revelation.
This does not mean that we should conclude we can learn nothing from studying nature. Rather, our interpretations of the discoveries made in nature must be consistent with the special revelation found in Scripture.
According to Lamoureux, it was the book of ‘God’s works’ in the fossil record that eventually led him to accept evolution as being true. The evidence of evolution he cites is: a number of supposed transitional fossils ‘proving’ the evolution of fish to amphibian, reptile to mammal, and land mammal to whale.
However, even the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University rejected gradualistic evolution (in favour of punctuated equilibrium), because of the ‘extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record’. The fossil record casts doubt on the theory of evolution, but confirms the teaching of Genesis 1: that God created different kinds of plants and animals to only reproduce variety within each kind (and not for one kind to change into a different kind).
The uncritical nature of Lamoureux’s acceptance of evolution is seen in such statements as: ‘If God created the great sea creatures like whales on the fifth day of creation in Genesis 1, why did he place useless little back legs in numerous species of whales?’ Actually, those little ‘legs’ are not useless. They are in fact pelvic bones that serve as anchors for reproductive organs.
Evolution needs to tell us how a creature gets new body parts and new functions, not how it lost the parts and functions its ancestors already had.
Lamoureux repeats the often-made claim that ‘creation does not deal with how the world was created, but rather focuses on who created it’. But this is a claim imposed upon the Bible and not one it makes itself. Genesis 1 does not tell us that God created by natural processes, but tells us that he first created things supernaturally, by speaking them into existence (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6, 9).
Lamoureux also wrongly argues ‘that real history in Scripture begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham’. However, there is no textual basis for this assertion, because Genesis 1–11 is historical narrative and intends to give historical data. For example, Genesis 5:1–5 gives dates and events for Adam’s life; and, in Genesis 11–12, there is no transition from non-historical to historical. Nor is Genesis 1-11 treated as a separate literary category from Genesis 12–50.
Moreover, the biblical chronologies in the Old Testament, such as Genesis 5 and 1 Chronicles 1:1, present Adam alongside numerous historical individuals such as Abraham. But if Adam did not exist, as Lamoureux believes, why should we believe Abraham was historical?
Because Lamoureux accepts evolution as fact, he likens the book of God’s words to ‘ancient science’. In fact, his primary emphasis on interpreting Genesis is in light of the worldview of the ancient Near East (ANE). Lamoureux, therefore, describes Genesis 1 as an ‘ancient poetic structure’, which he believes God used as a vehicle to communicate spiritual truth.
Genesis 1, unlike the ANE creation myths, does not use mythical poetic language. Genesis 1 contains a Hebrew verb form (wayyiqtol), which is a standard marker of historical narrative in the Old Testament. This verb form is characteristic of other historical narratives, such as Genesis 12–50, Exodus, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. Furthermore, even if the genre of Genesis 1 were poetry, this would not itself mean that it is not historically accurate.
Lamoureux’s belief that Genesis is ‘ancient science’ leads him to interpret passages that deal with the physical world through what he calls the ‘message-incident principle’. By this he means that the Bible’s inerrant spiritual truths are presented in the appearance of incidental and errant ‘ancient science’.
One evidence Lamoureux gives for this is his belief that, in Genesis 1:6–8, rāqîaʿ (‘firmament’) refers to ‘a hard dome’. He states, ‘The original biblical word translated as “firmament” means “a hard dome”. Why did ancient people believe this? . . . When they looked up at the sky, they saw a massive blue dome. To conclude there was a heavenly body of water held up by a solid structure made perfect sense’.
However, even fellow theistic evolutionist and Hebrew scholar John Walton, who once argued this point, now rejects it. Although there are different views on rāqîaʿ amongst YECs, it is probably best to see it as ‘space’ or ‘sky’ (see Genesis 1:6–8, 14–22).
Lamoureux’s belief that Genesis 1 reflects the erroneous ‘science’ of ancient people is an idea based upon a modern assumption and not a biblical one. Understanding Genesis this way is a movement away from ‘an original, singular and unique worldview on the part of the Hebrews’ and downplays the supernatural revelatory nature of Scripture.
Lamoureux recognizes that referring to the Bible as ‘ancient science’ brings with it the accusation that God lied. Therefore, he is quick to point out that this is not the case, as God ‘accommodated in the Bible and permitted the use of an ancient understanding of origins in the creation accounts’.
For Lamoureux, the concept of accommodation means Genesis is ancient (i.e. false) historiography — the human author of Genesis 1 believed the events happened just as described, but because of evolution we now know they did not.
This does, however, imply that God is responsible for communicating a flawed worldview to his people. But Lamoureux confuses the whole concept of accommodation. Rather, the traditional understanding of accommodation means ‘that [God] speaks truth in such a way that we can understand it, insofar as it can be understood by human beings’.
For example, parents often accommodate to their children’s question ‘Where do babies come from?’ by answering, ‘They grow in mommy’s tummy’. On the other hand, to answer, ‘A stork delivered the baby’, would be a lie, not an accommodation.
Because Lamoureux recognises that Jesus held to six-day creation, he applies the idea of accommodation to his teaching in Matthew 19:4–5. Yet the belief that Jesus accommodated his teaching to the supposedly erroneous beliefs of his first century hearers does not square with the facts. Jesus never hesitated to correct erroneous views common in the culture (e.g. Matthew 7:6–13, 29). Jesus was never constrained by the culture of his day if it went against God’s Word.
He opposed those who claimed to be experts on the law of God if they were teaching error. His numerous disputes with the Pharisees demonstrate this. The truth of Christ’s teaching is not culturally bound, but transcends all cultures and remains unaltered by cultural beliefs (Matthew 24:35).
Nevertheless, Lamoureux is inconsistent over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19, because he rightly accepts that divorce is not God’s intention for marriage and believes it is ‘a message that our generation needs to hear and obey’.
But if the ‘ancient science’ that is taught in the Bible is incorrect in Genesis 1, then why isn’t the Bible’s theology and morality (on divorce) that is grounded in Genesis also an ancient, erroneous way of thinking? The Bible’s morality and theology cannot be separated from its history (see 1 Corinthians 15; Matthew 22:23–33).
Throughout the book, Lamoureux’s testimony is that he moved from YEC to evolutionary creation. However, his knowledge of YEC is seriously misinformed: ‘Clearly, young earth creationists embrace scientific concordism and read Genesis 1 very literally. They claim the facts of science line up with the statements in Scripture about the origin of world. These Christians sincerely believe that the Bible is a book of science’.
YECs are often accused of being overly literal in their interpretation of Genesis 1 — an unfortunate accusation, since most YECs explain their hermeneutic as ‘grammatical-historical interpretation’. YECs do not believe the Bible is a book of science, but rather that it contains a reliable, historical account of the creation of the world and humanity, since God divinely revealed them both.
The most serious problem for YECs, according to Lamoureux, is that it is in conflict with every modern science that deals with origins … ‘Moreover, nearly every university throughout the world fully endorses, teaches and practices the evolutionary sciences in cosmology, geology and biology. This leads to an important question. Are we to believe that all these scientists are completely wrong about evolution?’
This is bizarre reasoning from Lamoureux, since he accepts the resurrection of Jesus and his miracles. The vast majority of secular academic institutions, however, would reject these as mythology. The secular academy is hostile to Christianity, precisely because it is controlled by evolutionary, millions-of-years thinking.
Belief in supernatural creation stands against a dominant intellectual system that establishes what is considered intellectually ‘credibility’ in the secular academy. Evangelicals who feel intellectually accountable to the academy then must come up with another way to understand Genesis that is acceptable to the secular world, which is what Lamoureux has done.
YEC is by no means anti-intellectual, since many academics throughout church history, as well as in the present day, have accepted the biblical account of creation as history. But are we to believe that all these professors at all these secular universities are wrong about evolution?
Well, for one thing, not all the professors believe in evolution. There are many scientists and professors in other departments of these universities who do not believe in evolution. Some are open YECs or open proponents of intelligent design, and many others are secret evolution-doubters or evolution-deniers, who keep quiet about it because of fear of persecution (verbal attacks, denial of tenure, loss of job) that they may suffer if their views became public.
Furthermore, the majority of the world’s professors are also wrong about their sin problem and need for the Saviour (which is a major reason they are wrong about evolution). Jesus said the road is wide that leads to destruction and many go that way (Matthew 7:13–14).
Lamoureux acknowledges that it was his time at theological college that changed his views from YEC to evolutionary creation. He recounts the challenge of his theological professor, who asked, ‘Denis, if you gave up your belief in six-day creation, would you also give up your faith in Jesus?’
Lamoureux’s rejection of YEC and acceptance of evolution may not have resulted in his giving up his faith in Jesus. However, he has had to reject other vital doctrines of the Christian faith: a historical Adam, sin and the inerrancy of Scripture. In doing so, he has given up his foundation for even needing Jesus. If there is no Adam or original sin, then why do we need a Saviour?
Lamoureux’s book is yet another failed attempt to reconcile evolution with the Bible. It is also evidence of what has to be conceded theologically, in order to submit to evolutionary dogma. Evolutionary creation is ultimately an appeal to the wisdom of men over the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18–21).
This review article is edited with kind permission.