Biblical Evidences

Concluding Thoughts
How Much Evolution Is Too Much?

Harry Osborne

All brethren with whom I am familiar by personal discussion or reading their material affirm that God created the universe, both animate and inanimate. I think it fair to say that all brethren I know would deny Darwinian evolution which affirms the evolution of all forms of life from a single, one-celled source or a few one-celled sources arising from non-living matter. However, some of our brethren are now saying that, while they deny the animate creation evolved beyond the stated limit of "after its own kind" given in the Bible, they accept the evolving of the inanimate creation from the "big bang" 20 billion years ago.

They affirm that the earth finally came into being some 4.5 billion years ago after the cooling and condensing of gases and other matter from the big bang. They further accept the concept that the formed earth took about 2 billion years to cool off, clear its atmosphere and various other things needed to reach "stability" (their choice of words, not mine). They affirm that all of these changes over millions or billions of years were necessary to play out before the earth was ready for the next action by God. In other words, God acted, then the earth was allowed to "stabilize" over a long period wherein changes were explained by naturalism rather than miraculous power, and the process repeated.

As they so affirm, they decry the use of the term "theistic evolution" to describe their views. They contend that they do not believe the general theory of evolution (Darwinian evolution) which holds that all living forms evolved from a common one-celled source. Since they do not believe in that form of evolution, they contend that they are misrepresented when others refer to them as "theistic evolutionists." They sometimes refer to their viewpoint as "progressive creationism" or "old earth creationism."

My question is this: What is the difference between believing in the evolution of the animate creation and the inanimate creation? God is said to have "created" (Heb., bara) both the animate and the inanimate: the heaven and the earth (Gen 1:1); man (Gen 1:27, et. al.); the living things of day five (Gen 1:21); the heavens (Isa 42:5). Furthermore, the terms "created" and "made" seem to be governed by the same time frame in Genesis 2:4. What, then, could be the biblical basis for refuting the evolution of the animate creation while affirming the evolution of the inanimate world? It seems to me that the two views are philosophically inconsistent. Am I missing something?

There is a great deal of discussion about it being unfair to call those "theistic evolutionists" who deny the evolution of the animate creation, but who affirm what can only be described fairly as the evolution of the inanimate creation. While I agree that we need to avoid using terms which unfairly characterize one, is the term "theistic evolution" an unfair characterization of the view that says God initiated and guided a process which over a 20 billion year period of change ultimately "stabilized" in the formation of the inanimate creation? Given the qualifiers, it seems to me that the term does fairly characterize what such brethren are teaching. However, I am caught between the desire to avoid a non-central dispute over terminology and the desire to have brethren frame the discussion in the proper context.

Lest the reader think only a few radical and ignorant folks are failing to understand the more educated and moderate defenders of this doctrine, let me point you to others who are sounding the same warnings you are seeing in this special issue. Dr. Bert Thompson, Executive Director of Apologetics Press and longtime lecturer on Evidences among institutional brethren, expressed it this way:

Thompson has dealt extensively with exposing the error of men like John Clayton among institutional brethren. Together with Wayne Jackson, Thompson has repeatedly warned that such teaching is a sure road to acceptance of more and more evolution. He quotes from Richard Niessen making the same point in these words:

Dr. Bolton Davidheiser, a longtime writer and lecturer on Evidences in evangelical circles has made the same point in his efforts to contend with the teaching of Dr. Hugh Ross. A review of Ross' teaching is included elsewhere in this issue. Brethren, it is not just a few "trigger happy young guns" out to create a problem who have conjured up a fight on this matter.

In an effort to keep the door open for discussion in this issue and future discussions, I have asked all writers to refrain from using the term "theistic evolution" as a description of the views held by those affirming God's use of billions of years to create and make this universe. Every writer with whom I have spoken on the issue has urged the same path in hopes that open discussion may be furthered. However, in all candor I must admit that I retain grave reservations about the wisdom of this course. It is my hope and prayer that I have not inadvertently helped someone look lightly upon this issue by a failure to plainly show where such teachings are sure to end.

There is no doubt in my mind that acceptance of evolutionary concepts regarding the inanimate creation will inevitably result in acceptance of evolutionary concepts regarding the animate creation. Maybe not by the present teachers of such, but certainly by a second generation. The history of "Progressive Creationism" among the denominational world plainly shows that fact. The same historical pattern may be seen in the Abilene Christian University controversy among the institutional brethren. In The Shadow of Darwin, a book by Wayne Jackson and Bert Thompson, chronicles that digression as do numerous articles and lectures. The movement started with the acceptance of John Clayton's teaching and ended in the full teaching of the general theory of evolution with the initial act and continuing guidance of God.

Make no mistake about it, the same movement has begun among non-institutional brethren. Those who minimize problem and defend the brethren who affirm this error are aiding in a subtle, but devastating assault upon the very foundation of faith. Brethren, if we must reinterpret the simple declarative statements of Genesis 1 and 2, what is to keep the rest of the Bible free from reinterpretation which negates the literal truths, doctrines and promises found therein?

e-mail this author at

Return to Watchman Front Page

return to April 1999 index