Is Theistic Evolution Scriptural?

Among evolutionists today it is not uncommon to find individuals who, although they believe man evolved up­ward from the beasts, claim to accept the Bible as God's inspired Word for man. Be­cause our workers are continu­ally coming in contact with these folks, I thought it would be profitable to present a quotation that shows how these theistic evolutionists think.


General Conference Department of Education, Research Division

AMONG evolutionists today it is not uncommon to find individuals who, although they believe man evolved up­ward from the beasts, claim to accept the Bible as God's inspired Word for man. Be­cause our workers are continu­ally coming in contact with these folks, I thought it would be profitable to present a quotation that shows how these theistic evolutionists think. Forewarned is fore­armed.

The following is taken from a sermon printed in the fall, 1959, number of The Satellite, an occasional bulletin published by the independent nondenominational organization called The Committee on Re­ligion and Science, 11 West 42d Street, New York 36, New York. This sermon was read by Dr. Clark E. Corliss, on Layman's Sunday in October, 1958, at the First Con­gregational church, Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Corliss teaches embryology in a medical school.

The vital issue involved in theistic evolu­tion is how to splice on an evolutionary development of man, or actually substitute one for the clearly portrayed instantaneous origin of man by special creation set forth in Genesis. Here is the way Dr. Corliss goes about it:

We have many skeletons in our Anatomy Depart­ment at the Medical School: one of them is different. It has longer arms, longer vertebral spines in the neck region, heavier brow ridges and a stooped posture. This skeleton is from an orangutan, one of the anthropoid apes. These differences are obvi­ous, but the resemblance to man's skeletal frame­work is close enough to make a thinking student of anatomy ponder. One of my own students seeing it for the first time, was, I think, a bit annoyed by this similarity and asked, "If we came from mon­keys, doesn't that go against what the Bible says about Adam?" I explained that man did not "come from monkeys" or from any other contemporary form, for that matter, but that way back in pre­historic times man and apes had a common ancestor that gave rise to two separate evolutionary forms. At that time man appeared on earth, not as modern man, of course, but as a man nevertheless with in­tellect and, I believe, a soul! To me this man was Adam, God's first man. Any remains of the common ancestor of Man and the apes has been lost—the so-called "missing link."

This little incident with my student serves to in­troduce the second area of friction between religion —really theology—and science: the idea of man's gradual evolution versus a sudden creation of man as we know him today. The same sort of people who objected so strenuously to Darwin's evolutionary ideas presented in 1859, had accepted the scientific evidence of the 16th century concerning the move­ments of the planets even though the scriptures de­clared that the "earth shall never be moved" (Ps. 93). These men were willing to admit that the Bible was not a scientific book in matters of astronomy but insisted that it was [such] in matters of biology. Was this paradox justified? I think not and I think you will agree. Had these confused thinkers studied carefully the stories of creation they would have learned that even the Biblical writers did not agree on the origin of man. There are two stories, both found in Genesis. The older or "J" version refers to "the day that the Lord made the earth and the heavens." He formed man first (from the dust of the earth), then the animals. In the "E" version (Gen. 1: and 2:l-4a) the writer tells of the six days required to make the earth. In this more familiar story, the plants were created first, before the sun, moon and stars, then animals and finally the climax of [the] creation was Man.

These stories, diverse as they may be in their se­quences, both emphasized the omnipotence of a single, mighty Jehovah—this, in a period when many peoples still worshipped a multiplicity of gods.

But the scientific allusions in both creation stories were merely used to accentuate the power of a mighty deity and were not based on accurate obser­vation or experiments which indeed were beyond the competence of these nomadic Hebrew people.

Design and Designer in Nature

Then farther along in his sermon, after Dr. Corliss refers to design in nature which suggests a Designer, he asks this question: "Evolution itself is a part of this design, and isn't it just as appealing to worship a God who works through natural laws slowly evolving life, as it is to worship one who creates by a sudden command?"

Beginning with this question we might suggest that possibly, if nature had been produced by evolution rather than by the instantaneous appearance of basic types of plants and animals in one solar week, it would present a design, but why ask such a question when the Bible from cover to cover makes not the slightest suggestion that organisms appeared through evolu­tion? The question is completely irrele­vant. The only manner of origin known in the Scriptures is by special creation of basic types or kinds.

The theistic evolutionist begins his argu­ment with a point upon which he and Ad-ventists are agreed, that the Bible and na­ture have the same Author and comple­ment each other. "Rightly understood, science and the written word agree, and each sheds light on the other."—Counsels to Parents and Teachers, page 426. Simple illustrations of this are the expressions in the Bible about the rising and setting of the sun (Gen. 15:17; 19:23; Judges 14:18; Job 9:7; Eccl. 1:5; Mark 1:32; etc.), and about the four corners of the earth (Rev. 7:1; cf. Matt. 24:31). During the Dark Ages Chris­tians believed that these references meant, respectively, that the earth stood still while the sun passed around it, and that the earth was flat and had four corners. How­ever, with the development of physical science it was learned that it was the rota­tion of the earth on its axis that gave the appearance of the rising and setting of the sun, and that, actually, the earth moved in an orbit around the sun. In the case of the shape of the earth it was found that the earth was not flat but very nearly spherical in form.

It is very important to bear in mind that the evidences upon which we base our modern conception of the motions of the earth and of its shape are of the empirical sort; that is, they are evidences that can be demonstrated in such a way as to leave ab­solutely no doubt about the general ac­curacy of our conclusion. There just are no other ways here of explaining what we ob­serve and what we find by experimenta­tion. We speak of this satisfactory and ex­clusive type of evidence as coercive.

Who Is Confused?

In his sermon Dr. Corliss describes be­lievers in special creation as being con­fused. Actually it is he who here is con­fused because he thinks the evidence for organic evolution is so clear as to make it impossible that basic types of plants and animals were created instantaneously. Ac­tually every item of evidence which bears on the problem of origins is of a sort which, unlike the evidence for the shape of our earth and its motions, can be explained in at least two ways. An illustration of what I mean here is found in the demonstrable fact that even quite diverse organisms ap­parently have many genes (hereditary units) in common because they carry a number of similar enzymes, and many of their biochemical processes are similar. The evolutionist says that this fact proves evolution, pointing back to a time when these organisms of different basic morpho­logical types had a common ancestor. But does such evidence exclude the possibility of one Creator who formed these basic types instantaneously, using common building material and maintaining their lives through the operation of similar bio­chemical processes? In other words, this kind of evidence is not coercive, merely circumstantial.

When the true quality of such evidence is pointed out to an evolutionist, he char­acteristically hastens on to other "proofs," but unfortunate for his hypothesis, every item on his long list of "proofs" is of this very same unsatisfactory quality. "But," he argues, "so much circumstantial evidence must mean something!" Because of his viewpoint he is incapable of understanding that every item on his list in the same way would "prove" special creation.

Dr. Corliss asserts that because the Chris­tians in the sixteenth century accepted the scientific evidence for the rotation of the earth and for its sphericity, but refused the evidence for evolution, they were confused. Actually they were very wise and clearheaded because the scientific evidence re­garding the earth as an astronomical body was clear and coercive in nature and ac­tually did not conflict with the Bible, but the evidence for evolution was unclear and at best merely circumstantial, and it was di­rectly opposed to the Bible story of origins. The regrettable thing is that Dr. Corliss and other evolutionists are so enamored with the hypothesis of evolution as to be unable to perceive the nature of the evi­dence they are using to prove it.

The same difficulty experienced by Dr. Corliss in distinguishing between evidence that is coercive and that which is only cir­cumstantial troubles him again in his in­ability to see agreement between the nar­ration of Genesis 1 and that of Genesis 2. Of course this is already an old excuse, be­cause the supposed lack of agreement in these two chapters was first pointed out at the beginning of the era of higher criticism a century before Origin of Species was pub­lished. It would appear as if the god of con­fusion were endeavoring to break down the strength of the Genesis story in order to prepare the way for its later replacement by the compromising and debasing tale of evolution. That Dr. Corliss is completely in error in holding the opinion that Bible writers were not agreed on the origin of man can be seen by consulting such au­thoritative sources as the SDA Bible Com­mentary, vol. I, pages 201-204, and H. C. Leupold's Exposition of Genesis, pages 35-37.

Dr. Corliss suggests that all that can be gotten from the Genesis record of Creation is emphasis of the fact "of a single, mighty Jehovah." However, this record actually gives sufficient detail about the origin of man to permit us to see him formed in­stantaneously from the dust in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27; 2:7), an origin which gave him the high privilege of being the son of God (Luke 3:38).

The Bible record makes very clear to us that God did not form man by a process which required millions of years and which brought him up through the slimy, scaly, and hairy brutes, trailing their heredity with him. Furthermore, throughout the entire Bible the Genesis story of Creation is treated as pure history. Unless the por­trayal in Genesis is read literally, we make God a liar, because when He gave the Ten Commandments to Israel He declared that "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea [the inorganic part of our earth], and all that in them is [the world of organisms]." Because God had per­formed the work of Creation in six solar days and had rested on the seventh solar day, He commanded men to do their work during the first six days of each solar week and then likewise rest during the seventh solar day (Exodus 20:9-11; 31:17). In the face of this crystal-clear exposition by God Himself of the brief time consumed in the creation of the earth and of living things upon it, it becomes ungarnished impiety and blasphemy to maintain that contrary to His own statement He actually created in a developmental way by an evolutionary process that occupied many millions of years. Further examples illustrating the fact that the Scriptures themselves treat the Creation account of Genesis as pure history are found in Psalms 8 and 104; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:5-9; 2 Peter 3:5; and He­brews 4:4.

Indeed the book of nature is to be used in illuminating certain Bible statements. But in order to be of use the testimony of nature must be very clear and have the quality of coercive evidence. Actually all such evidence is in harmony with Bible statement. Circumstantial evidence must be used cautiously in Bible interpretation, and certainly it dare not be used in an en­deavor to controvert the lucid assertions of God Himself.

Is it harmless to accept theistic evolution if we wish to? Because of the harmonious testimony of the whole Bible that the parts of our inorganic earth and the basic types of life upon it originated each in its turn instantaneously by special creation during one solar week, the story of an origin by evolution through vast stretches of time becomes a lie. Surely no Christian will wish to entertain an idea that God Himself has clearly revealed to be false. Falsehoods, with their confusion and breeding of ill will, find no place in heaven or the new earth. In Revelation 22:15 we are told that in the final restitution "who­soever loveth and maketh a lie" will find himself in the terrible situation of being outside the city of God.

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General Conference Department of Education, Research Division

April 1960

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