Summer Reading Group: “Dignity After Darwin”

Yes, Zane, you are right (as always) on multiple fronts (including the fact that I am a bit of a Platonist, no doubt under the corrosive influence of David Hart…but let’s leave that aside for now!). I should perhaps just add a note about the structure and scope of the chapter since I don’t think these have been made clear above.

Most of “Dignity After Darwin” is devoted to critiquing what Conor Cunningham calls “ultra-Darwinism” and its corrosive implications for values, particularly the idea of an inviolable dignity attaching to each individual. The argument is not particularly original, I have to confess. It is really just a historical as well as philosophical exploration of the so-called “naturalistic fallacy” or “Hume’s Law.” It was first inspired by a deceptively simple but I think profound book, The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis (who also happened to accept common ancestry and deep time, i.e., evolution). After spelling out some of these problems I propose the need for what I call “apophatic science”, that is, a science that like apophatic theology knows what it does not know…not for present lack of empirical data but logically, as a matter of rational constraint.

In the final and briefest part of the chapter I then gesture toward some thinkers who I have found helpful in wrestling with questions of faith and science. What I do not in any way attempt or offer in these concluding remarks is some kind of grand synthesis of evolution and theology or some kind of vigorous explanation and defense of any of the authors I cite. Readers can refer to my footnotes and read the books by these authors for themselves if they are interested in large scale works on theistic evolution by theistic evolutionists (who bear little resemblance to the pathetic straw men offered up by some commenters here). I have especially benefited from Alister McGrath’s Gifford lectures, Stephen J. Pope’s synthesis of Thomist theology with evolutionary ideas, and Cunningham’s sophisticated (and frequently hilarious) dissection of the metaphysical and ontological pitfalls of reductive Darwinism and “scientific” creationism both. The fact that I have learned much from these writers, it should go without saying, does not mean I am slavishly committed to defending each and every thing they have written or might think.

But as I say, all of these final remarks in my chapter, and now here as well, are really just gestural. The book is a largely negative critique of Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche, although I do attempt to offer some constructive answers and positive defenses of Christian humanism along the way.

Since another work of mine has been brought into the conversation, I might add that the approach I took in my earlier book from IVP Academic, Death Before the Fall, was also a largely deconstructive one. That book was an admittedly eclectic set of essays mostly devoted to exposing and critiquing the fallacies of rigid literalism on Genesis. It was positively reviewed by qualified biblical scholars such as Walter Brueggemann and John Walton. Their views on the meaning of the Old Testament and Genesis matter to me. While I also “gestured” in the direction of some positive answers in the final third of the book (paying attention, e.g., to what the creation narrative in the book of Job says about the wildness and even ferocity of God’s “very good” creation), I was less interested in providing confident (let alone strident) answers to our puzzles than I was in helping to make clear what we do not know.

The two books are in this sense, I hope, complementary. Together I hope they might provide readers with some conceptual tools or “maps” to resist the zealots on both sides of the science/religion debate, atheists and wooden biblical literalists alike.

*I depart early tomorrow morning to visit ADRA projects in the White Nile region and don’t expect to have access to internet. This will therefore be my final comment on this thread. Thanks again to all for your interest.


Fair enough, Cliff. We’re all in the same boat, it seems, trying above all else to rescue others (like the scenes on television today associated with hurricane/tropical storm Harvey).

Actually, I’m on board with the interpretation that Adam is literal. You’re asking a good question, and I don’t have an answer. I’ve also wondered how others would interpret God’s finger writing in stone the number of days He took to create the heavens and earth, which I believe is literal.

The OUP site directs me to “your ebook supplier” so cant seem to get far there and have resorted to kindle store. Not sure on the justification for an ebook that costs the same as a book unless the intent it to force the consumption of trees. I would be surprised if Ron actually gets more for the ebook than for paper.


Professor Kent

Thanks for the conciliatory gesture and words.

Now, if Adam is literal, as you seem to agree with me that he is, how does he possibly fit in with any kind of Darwinian scenario, even one that is, supposedly, not deemed “ultra-Darwinian” or solely naturalistic? That is, in any kind of theistic evolutionary scenario at all? It is a good question, and since it goes to the heart of the entire Christian message, it would seem that folks who are adamant that we must follow what science says about origins ought to have some sort of answer.

But that’s only one of numerous difficulties with the biblical text.

What about when Jesus said: “But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female’”? Mark 10:6. Don’t we have the testimony of thousands of biologists, paleontologists, and others, all with a great deal of scientific evidence, that humans came at the end of creation, late comers on the bio scene, and not at the beginning of creation, as Jesus said? So, unless someone wants to label Jesus, to quote Ron’s last post, as one of those “wooden biblical literalists,” what does one do with Christ’s pretty unambiguous words here?

Seriously, can’t one of what appears to be many of the theistic evolutionists who haunt this blog give us some answers to these questions?

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At the risk of my second comment being deleted I would ask again my previous question. Do you think that what Paul is talking about in discussing the first and second Adam is about biology or is it a theological perspective and are they different? Is he talking of the type and antitype that Adventists have traditionally used to link the old testament forms to the Christ or is he trying to give us a lesson in actual factual biology.

Let me rephrase the question. Do you accept as 21stcenturySDA said in another post that what Jesus Himself says in Matt 17 is really a factual statement on the biology of illness and disease? We seem easily able to turn a blind eye to the actual words; to Jesus characterization of epilepsy, or what the father thought was an illness, as demon possession that as He says can only be cured by prayer and fasting. Very few Adventist would accept the premise clearly stated that we can only cure disease by miracles and by Faith and forego the cures effected by scientific evidence based medicine that as a Church we have embraced largely as a result of the leading of EG White.

Here lies the great enigma in Adventism. Our selective willingness to embrace the idea that some knowledge has actually been generated in the last 2000 years that means we can and indeed must interpret the Bible in the light of that knowledge and accept the inherent naturalism in that interpretation. It is perhaps as Job says when it touches our flesh we are willing to do many things and accept effective treatment despite its naturalistic basis. What we seem incapable of doing is having a consistent hermeneutic that would allow precisely the same approach to Gen 1,2 as most Adventist apply to Matthew 17. Those that do so are seen as undesirables haunting sites such as this. Ron Osborn should be congratulated in offering some approaches to hard questions that will never go away.

As Darwin recognized confirmational bias is endemic to being human. To be honest with data is very hard.

On this point I would absolutely agree. As Myron Penner suggests in his book “The end of Apologetics” modern Christian apologists seem enamoured of the logic and reason of the enlightenment and believe we can proclaim the Christian message by grinding out an intellectual assent and Grace will inexorably follow. Penner points us back to Kierkegaard’s essay "Of the difference between and Genius and an Apostle " that argues we come to God and his message of Grace and the Kingdom not by the work of genius and feats of intellect but by the prophetic word. What sort of a place would the Church be if we lived by the prophetic word rather than demonizing the other whose journey of discovery of faith does not replicate out own. We are all saved by God Grace not by reaching a certain level of understanding or knowledge.

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Thank you for participating in the book group. I am reading Osborn’s book and I think you have given a great discussion for the chapter “Dignity After Darwin.”

Osborn added several historical bits in the chapter that I found quite intriguing. For example, Osborn’s discussion about the weaknesses of Gould’s “Non-Overlapping Magisterial.” I also appreciated Osborn making the case for a measure of humility in Darwin’s own character. In addition, I liked Osborn’s description of honesty and compassion as “Emotional Contagion” and having evolutionary components. I often believe God’s way is the right way so, mutuality and honesty and cooperation amongst societies are the best way for the societies to thrive. Sure evolution also shows some violent streaks that yield survival. But also, scientists see evidence for evolutionary support (in some degree) for kindness.

But, to your question about Roman’s 5. Many theologians see that “Adam” as an archetype. For example, in 2017 Scot McKnight coauthored a book entitled “Adam and the Genome.” Half of the book is written by a scientist and half by McKnight, a theologian. You might find that helpful. John Walton’s writings also help reconcile science to scripture and Genesis (in particular). Also, NT Wright recently wrote on the topic in an excursus in Walton’s book, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve.”

Genetics and specifically the research into the human genome has buttressed evolutionary theory in a huge way. The issues of evolution go beyond fossils and theories etc. To continue to defend recent literal 7 day creation without taking time to delve into genetics is not wise. This tough defense is squeezing out more and more of the university educated students who have taken science courses and causing them to live with an unsustainable cognitive dissonance. This not an issue that can be erased with slick presentations given in closed door meetings.

I understand that fear underlies the rigorous defense for literal 7 day creation. What will happen to our understanding of Sabbath? We have nothing to fear. Sabbath is still important but it might be time to give emphasis to new aspects of the old truth. For example, Tonstad’s book or Brueggeman’s book on Sabbath give much theological meat for our denomination still to exist with urgent present truth.


Cliff, I’m happy to continue dialogue, but I’m not a theistic evolutionist. I believe pretty much as you do. There are many who think I’m hostile to the SDA position on origins, but I reserve my objections to intolerance and distorted interpretations of science. We have a growing body of believers whose faith–so they think–is bolstered what they regard to be overwhelming evidence of intelligent design, when in fact their faith is based, instead, on the proclamations of individuals like Walter Veith, Sean Pitman, Art Chadwick, and Leonard Brand. Some of the claims by these individuals are correct, but other claims are distorted, exaggerated, or just plain wrong. The evidence is so complex for many such claims that even experts with advanced training struggle to come up with justifiable interpretations–which are still subject to bias, as you are right to point out. I think it’s okay to be uncertain about the evidence concerning origins, and much prefer our members base their faith on a personal relationship with Jesus rather than the opinions of mere mortals.

I too am surprised you’re not getting more direct responses to your questions. I assume such individuals view the Biblical account of Creation as allegory. Jesus’ words, therefore, might be considered arguments based on what the people at the time were familiar with, regardless of whether the account in Genesis was literal. My good friend Pauluc has offered some thoughts, as has Carmen. I’m guessing their comments aren’t as specific as you would like. By the way, I have a growing appreciation for you.


Hi folks–one of my favorite parts of this chapter was the critique of materialist-only evidence. Osborn’s claim that “for acknowledgers of transcendence, the inner life is itself primary datum” (p. 70) was really important for me. There are multiple ways of knowing and one of the tragedies of modernity is that truth=measurable data. I took Osborn’s thesis to be on p. 66, where he makes the argument for "a holistic embodied and integrative view that takes the interiority and subjectivity of human experience…as primary datum and departure points."
This is really useful. Those of us making arguments regarding transcendence and spiritual truth are speaking of that inner life and the evidence of our experience. And those who try to argue for human rights are often doing this as well, but a Darwinian world doesn’t allow them to root their evidence in their own interiority.
Thanks to Cliff for summarizing some of the most important arguments in the chapter so well. And thanks to Osborn for pointing out that amazing line by Rachels that claims for human dignity are noting more than “the moral effluvium of a discredited metaphysics.” It’s been haunting me ever since.


HI, Carmen.

It was fun meeting you in person at the Spectrum shindig earlier in the year and glad this discussion is a bit more amiable than our last one online.

I noticed that you put “Adam” in quotes. Was that to question his literal existence? If so, I humbly ask, Would you put “Jesus” in quotes in Romans 5 as well?

And this “Adam” as a archetype? I know what an archetype is, but how does that play out in reality? Archetype is a label; who or what was the Adam referred to by Paul in Romans 5? A hominid? A Neanderthal? Some kind of eponymous character? My dilemma is simply that there sure seems to be a clear human-to-human correspondence in those verses and the answer that he’s an archetype seems, well, kind of an evasion.

Rom. 5:18 “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through o_ne Man’s_ righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

To just write this off as Paul talking to the folks in his culture who, well, didn’t get to know what modern science has taught, which seems to be that such a sinless, perfect, being who was created not to die really could not have happened because God created through evolution is, I think, being very careless with what seems to be the clear intent of the texts.

In fact I just noticed, though Paul mentions both Adam and Jesus by name, he seems to deliberately be stressing the man-to-man parallel. One man did this, the other man did that to undo what the one man did, and so forth. It sure seems to mean a literal first man and a literal second man.

Anyway, glad to hear from you.

And, Professor Kent, thanks again for the kind words. I’m going out of my way not to come off as the schmuck I can be online (though it ain’t easy).


Hello Cliff,

Don’t be too hard on yourself. There are many in leadership positions in the SdAC. And yet, here you are, alone. That must be frustrating; even at the best of times. While I of course agree we should be civil. But I also believe Christ said we are to be as wise as serpents, we forget that part.

If our church were to allow evolution more freedom, we should not be surprised if we one day end up like the United Methodist Church:

John G. West : "I would point out that the UMC’s slogan is ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors,’ and UMC leaders claim to be in favor of open dialogue. But banning us from even having an information table is not open-minded. It’s close-minded in the extreme."

Many here ask for more tolerance concerning this theory; but every now and then they slip up, and expose their true feelings about creation and those that believe in it. If they had the power, we would become like the UMC. I just hope we’re not as ignorant to believe that both can sit at the same table. One will overcome the other.

If evolution is true, then how will the new earth be different from what we have now? Apart from mankind living forever, absolutely nothing.

All throughout Scripture, God paints a different picture:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain,”
says the LORD. (Isaiah 65:25)

For I [Paul] consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:18-23)

Then I [John] saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4)

Well except for those poor animals which will continue to be eaten - some alive. No wiping away their tears. For them it will read: "He will not wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be even more, there shall there be mourning, crying, pain, for the former things have not passed away.

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)

Really… this is good? Very good even?

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There is a weak internet connection tonight in White Nile and so I am happy to take up your challenge Cliff. Forgive me for quoting from a book you say you have carefully read:

…passages in the New Testament such as Romans 5 that speak of death entering the world through one man are, on closer examination, exclusively focused on humanity.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon ALL MEN, for that all have sinned . . . Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon ALL MEN to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon ALL MEN unto justication of life. (Rom 5:12, 18)

If some readers are unhappy with restricting the meaning of Romans 5 to humankind alone, the question we must ask them is, have they considered the theological implications of expanding the meaning of the text beyond what it plainly says? Let us imagine that a well-meaning medieval scribe had inserted the following glosses on the text:

By one man "death passed upon all men and animals, for that all men and animals have sinned: . . . by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men and animals to justication of life.”

Or what if the text read:

"through one man death passed upon all men and animals, for that all men have sinned and innocent animals were thus cursed by God . . . through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men but not to animals to justication of life.”

Would this tidily solve the theodicy problem of animal suffering and predation—or in fact render it incomprehensible?"

Death Before the Fall, pages 130 and 131

So which version of adding words to the text do you prefer Cliff? It is clear that you subscribe to one of the glosses of our imaginary medieval scribe, but note that your interpretation is by no means the only one, even following your own “plain reading” hermeneutic. Theistic evolutionists like C. S. Lewis and John Stott also believed in a historical Adam. I am not personally committed to this view but it is one possibility to be wrestled with.

Consider also this: “For orthodox Christianity, Cunningham points out, it is not Adam but Christ who is the first true human, the axis mundi by whom we must now reenvision all that came before as well as all that comes after. Some have insisted that without a historical Adam the life, death and resurrection of the historical Jesus would be devoid of meaning. But this claim amounts to a denial (even if unintentionally so) of the centrality of Christ; for it gives the fallen Adam of Genesis an interpretive primacy over the Jesus of history that Paul and the Gospel writers do not allow. For disciples of Christ, it is only in Christ that the ancient story of human origins and destiny can be rightly understood—not the other way around. We do not read the story of Christ “Adamically.” We reread the story of Adam christologically in the light of the second Adam who is also the first Adam, the first fully human being of whom the ancient story is only a type, a dim shadow and longing, a “figure of him that was to come” (Rom 5:14).” (page 164)

You don’t have to agree with these statements Cliff. Can you at least have the intellectual honesty (a term you often use) and generosity of spirit to acknowledge that these are live questions that do not admit easy answers?


Ron, brother, glad to hear from you. Really.

Fair enough, and people can argue about whether it was only human death or both human and all death.

But that still doesn’t answer the question about who was this “one man” who brought, let’s say, just human death. (Though if you think about it, how radically different the world would have to in which humans didn’t die. It couldn’t be anything like the natural world we have now, and trying to retrodict from now to back then through the methods and presuppositions of science would be, It seems, bound to lead to error. )

But your move hardly solves the problem, anyway.

First, although sinful, corrupted humans can show great compassion for the suffering and death of animals, must we attribute to an infinitely compassionate God billions of years of degradation, violence, starvation, suffering, and death for animals, including advanced mammals and primates resulting in a finished creation He called “very good? Yes, if evolution were how He created us.

Second, where and how did the sharp transition occur between two highly advanced hominids (there would have to be a male and female to pass on their advantageous genetic material) who, though themselves subject to death, nevertheless produced the first two Homo sapiens (Adam and Eve), “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27)? Theistic evolution, if it wants to keep some semblance of adhering to the Scriptures, requires us to believe that these two sinless and immortal images of God grew from infancy into moral adults whose wrong choices finally caused them to face the same suffering and death plaguing all other life on earth for billions of years.

And what does this tell us about Jesus and the cross? It tells us that the Lord incarnated Himself into an evolved ape, first created through the vicious and painfully murderous cycle of natural selection, and He did so in order to abolish death, “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). But how can death be the “enemy” if it was one of God’s chosen means for creating humans? The Lord must have expended plenty of dead Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis in order to finally get one into His own image (Homo sapiens). So Jesus comes to save mankind from the very process God used to create it in the first place?

Makes perfect sense.

Appreciate you keeping up with this from the White Nile. Tell me technology isn’t amazing?



No, Tony, if evolution were true everything would be wrong, with Christianity, anyway. Fascinating about what you put up regarding the UMC.

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Ron, but the answers are so, so much easier if we keep evolution out of the mix, right? The questions arise, such as Adam not really existing (which seems to be what he is at least implying), only because of the attempt to harmonize billions of years of violence, predation and death with a text that teaches nothing of the sort but, surely,seems to teach the opposite, in fact.

Cheers, and don’t get eaten by a hippo!

Cliff, you are asking questions that I spent more than 200 pages wrestling with in Death Before the Fall. I have the sense you must have only very hastily skimmed the book. I don’t know how else to interpret the fact that you keep circling back to questions that I have already addressed at length. For example, you keep insisting that if evolution occurred God must have willed or designed all death and suffering, like some kind of grand utilitarian. In fact, the grand utilitarian view of God is the one you seem to be committed to because you attribute all animal death and suffering in nature in the present to a divine curse upon humanity in God’s grand plan for human redemption. Animals in your theology are basically being instrumentally used. This makes God directly responsible for animal predation, punishing innocent creatures for human sins. By contrast, a theistic evolutionist might view animal suffering not as God’s design but what God allows in a universe of creaturely freedom, with freedom being one of the things God creates. Furthermore, I point out in the book, the Hebrew term “very good” is not the same as the term “perfect”. Here again you are importing ideas into the text that are not actually there if we attend to the biblical language.

Let me go back to my earlier analogy of human reproduction to try illustrate how a theistic evolutionist might begin to reconcile animal predation with good creation (even if the theodicy dilemma is never fully answerable). To take a highly disturbing example, let’s consider a child born as a result of an assault. Did God plan or design this act of violence? As long as we are not Calvinists, no, clearly not. Such an idea is abhorrent. But is the child who is born even out of violence and dysfunction still God’s very good creation, made fully in the image of God? Yes. The harm done does not erase the imago Dei. The life created even in violence does not exist outside of or apart from the Giver of all life. To put the matter starkly, then, When you ask caustic questions about how theistic evolutionists could possibly believe in the Creator God or take the Bible seriously, what I hear from you is the theological equivalent of a man telling a child born from a rape that they should be ashamed to imagine that God created them or sees them as very good because the Creator God you worship would never taint himself by being involved with a brutal reality like that.

Ron, we seem to be deviating from the original direction here but let me ask what you are saying. You seem to be taking the standard theistic evolutionary tact that God made even inanimate or non-rational nature free, “Creaturely freedom” is the terms you used. I believe that this freedom was found only in Adam and Eve (at least here on earth). I don’t see how your view in any way makes the problem of animal suffering any better. So the animals violated this “creaturely freedom” and that’s why they suffer?

And maybe I am, brother, misunderstanding your use of the phrase “instrumentally used” but how can that be applied to my view? We are all suffering, animals and humans, for Adam’s sin. But in your view, animal suffering is what is “instrumentally being used” to create humans. In my view, suffering is a destroying process, not a creating one.

I don’t remember what you wrote about “very good” but even if it doesn’t mean “perfect” it can hardly mean billions of years of violence, suffering and death. That’s a bit of a stretch of the terms "very good,"isn’t it? And how does your rape analogy fit into a world that is “very good” even with your view of “very good” being something else than perfect? “Life created in violence” is still a “very good” scenario?

Anyway, this is still not answering the question about Adam and Christ in Romans 5, but that’s fine. You can have, if you wish, the last word here, because I sense this isn’t going to progress anywhere.

Cheers, friend.

Cliff/Ron, I’m following and appreciating the exchanges between you both (and others). It seems to me, however, you are talking past each other, wanting to talk about two related, yet, distinct matters. Ron is arguing that humans can still be considered to bear the imago dei, therefore, having moral dignity and value, even if evolution were true, as long as one is not also committed to a metaphysical materialism. Cliff is arguing that theistic evolutionists have the difficult challenge of explaining certain passages of Scripture and a.) accounting for the presence of death before human sin, and b.) making death a mechanism for God’s creative activity.

To make any progress and reach some concord on these matters, if that is our goal, is going to require us disentangling these two lines of inquiry.

Regarding the first issue, it’s seems to me that Cliff, you disagree with Ron, but I’m wondering if you could clarify further why, in light of his clarifications.

Regarding, the second issue, perhaps both sides of the debate should admit that affirming either side comes at a certain epistemic cost, if one is seeking cognitive coherence. Theistic evolutionists have to explain some of the texts Cliff is quoting, and creationists have to explain why God seems to have set stuff up in such a epistemically confusing manner, making the Bible seemingly say one thing and then nature/science another–What does this say about God (who gave us nature and reason to study it)? Cliff and Ron seem to be willing to bite the opposite bullets. Both camps face challenging tasks. Theistic evolutionists face the task of re-explaining traditionally held interpretations of Scripture. Creationists face the task of re-explaining the empirical data in a way that is convincing to reasonable people.

Until those tasks are complete (and after, considering human finitude generally,) the case strong for “apophatic creationism” AND for “apophatic evolution” is strong, to tweak the phrase from the chapter a bit.

Another related issue is the issue of causation, and numerous ways God can be understood to “cause” something. Aquinas thought there was at least 5! It seems to me that Cliff is mainly interested in “efficient causation” and Ron is arguing that the imago dei could be affirmed if God is thought of as as “causing” humans in other ways–source of being, goodness, telos, etc.

Okay, one last thought on God being the efficient cause of humans. The traditional view on this has been that God causes humans by imposing form on matter, bringing everything together in a particular way. Cliff seems to understand theistic evolutionists as claiming that God is imposing form through death to create humans. Both of you seem to have read much more theistic evolutionist literature than me, but the little I have read, does not claim this. John Haught, for example, understands creation as a process where God creates the space for something other than God, i.e. the created order, to unfold on its own, i.e. in genuine freedom. This should not be understood in a deistic sense, as God is also present in all things as their ground and through the incarnation of the Son and presence of the Spirit suffers with creation. Yet, God is not intervening in the development of things by directly causing death. God allows for death, suffers with creation, and is working to redeem it. (Yes, accounts like this raise a whole other set of issues and questions!)


Great points Zane. Cliff kindly offered me the final word but I am going to give the final word to Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart on the classically orthodox view of divine causation:

“For Thomas Aquinas…God creates the order of nature by infusing the things of the universe with the wonderful power of moving of themselves toward determinate ends; he uses the analogy of a shipwright able to endow timbers with the power to develop into a ship without external intervention. According to the classical arguments, universal rational order—not just this or that particular instance of complexity—is what speaks of the divine mind: a cosmic harmony as resplendently evident in the simplicity of a raindrop as in the molecular labyrinths of a living cell… a good argument can be made that only a single infinite cause can account for perfect, universal, intelligible, mathematically describable order. If, however, one could really show that there were interruptions in that order, places where the adventitious intrusions of an organizing hand were needed to correct this or that part of the process, that might well suggest some deficiency in the fabric of creation. It might suggest that the universe was the work of a very powerful, but also somewhat limited, designer. It certainly would not show that the universe is the creature of an omnipotent wisdom, or an immediate manifestation of the God who is the being of all things. Frankly, the total absence of a single instance of irreducible complexity would be a far more forceful argument in favor of God’s rational action in creation.”

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Pauluc, I’ve inquired and heard back from OUP and unfortunately the code is only applicable in US/UK/Europe for print products. Regarding the price for the book, this has more to do with it being printed in a relatively small number and in hard back for the initial run. (My understanding is that the author sees very little of this in terms of commission.) This being the case, we continue welcome your interest and comments as we try to work through the ideas/arguments in the book together.


I’m tempted to respond to Ron’s Bentley quote referring to Thomas Aquinas but won’t dare.

Why not cut to the chase here?

Why don’t theistic evolutionists just come out and say something like this: Look, we respect the Holy Scriptures but, let’s face it, Genesis 1:11 is a bunch of fairly tales that have almost nothing to teach us either about or origins, or about our natures, or about evil, or about death.

Wouldn’t that be a whole more straightforward, honest, and forthright than the kind of theological gymnastics that takes the phrase tov meod “very good” and stretches it to include a few billions years of the fits and starts and survival of the fittest and so forth?

Why not just come out and say that those verses are useless on these topics, since we now have modern science to straighten us out. Who needs Genesis when we have On the Origin of Species?

Doesn’t that kind of get to the heart of the whole matter?