Interview with Wayne Grudem, co-editor of THEISTIC EVOLUTION: A SCIENTIFIC, PHILOSOPHICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE

Published on January 16, 2018 by Joshua R Monroe

Crossway, 2017 | 1008 pages

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Christians have been faced with the question for a hundred and fifty years or so now, since Charles Darwin, but it is not often that we see them give such a major push-back as we see in this new book from Crossway: Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. I’m Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and we have with us today one of the editors of the book, Dr. Wayne Grudem, to talk about this important new resource.
Welcome, Wayne. Thanks for talking to us, and congratulations on this major new accomplishment!

Wayne Grudem:
Thank you, Fred; and thank you for your excellent contribution to the book.

 

Fred Zaspel:
It was an honor to be a part of it. It really was.

Grudem:
You’re the reigning world’s expert on Warfield; and you’ve convincingly argued that Warfield did not hold to evolution in any important sense that people hold to it today.

 

Zaspel:
You know, it’s a funny question. I wasn’t planning to bring that up, but since you did, it is an interesting question to me, because the canonical view of Warfield for so long has been that he was a theistic evolutionist. A couple of men have made that the reigning belief about Warfield and it’s been repeated on critically for so many times; and when I first started reading Warfield, myself, I was aware of that. But when I started reading him, I thought, “I’m just not seeing it.” And then the more I looked into it I thought this is just wrong, it’s something that needs to be changed.

Grudem:
Well, you convinced me, that’s for sure.

 

Zaspel:
Great. Well, I hope that continues.
All right, tell us just what you have set out to accomplish here. What is the contribution you hope to make with the book?

Grudem:
We hope that the book will persuade people that they should not believe in theistic evolution, that is, the idea that Darwinian evolutionary theory in its modern form is true and it doesn’t contradict the Bible. We argue, for many reasons, that it should not be believed as truthful as a theory and it does contradict the Bible in very significant ways. So, it should be rejected.
The reason that’s important, Fred, is that evolution is basically the primary substitute religion that people have in our society today. It’s their big picture, or metanarrative explanation for how we came into being. People can take refuge in evolution and say, I’m just the result of matter plus random mutation over a long period of time; and then they don’t have a sense of accountability to God. But, if, all of a sudden, there are multiple scientific and philosophical objections to evolutionary theories, so that people no longer find it a valid theory to believe in, then they’re confronted with the question, “How did I get here? Who made me?” And that, again, puts us back into the, I think, proper mindset whereby people have an instinctive sense that our existence as human beings is so amazing, so complex, so wonderful, there must be a God who created us. And then, all of a sudden, people realize, “I am accountable to that God.” And that’s a very serious thing.

 

Zaspel:
Yes, that has implications. That’s right.
Okay, before we get into the book itself, there are five editors listed – tell us about each, briefly, their respective areas of expertise, and how this shapes the book.

Grudem:
Well, five of us were involved in editing the book. The lead editor, who took the lead among us and coordinated our efforts, was J. P. Moreland. He’s a distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California. He’s been listed among the 50 most influential philosophers in the world; has a lifetime of major contributions to philosophical study and he, and others that he recruited to write philosophical articles in this volume have argued that theistic evolution, the idea that God used evolution to bring about all living things, is circular reasoning. It assumes what it wants to prove; and is really unpersuasive when it’s carefully considered from the standpoint of philosophy. And they give many reasons for that.
Then Steve Meyer, who has a PhD in philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge in England, and is the science director at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, was the primary science editor. He was assisted by Ann Gauger, who has a PhD from the University of Washington and post-doctoral work at Harvard working particularly in protein evolution and science related to human origins.
And then, Christopher Shaw, a British contributor. Chris Shaw has a PhD in molecular endocrinology from Queens University in Belfast and has authored over 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers. So, he is a senior scientist working especially in molecular endocrinology.
And then, I was editor for the Bible and theology material, arguing from both Old and New Testaments, and then from Church History, that accepting the theory of evolution and believing it is consistent with the Bible is just not a persuasive idea.
I think I talked about all the editors; now, it was quite an unusual team to get together and work on this book.

 

Zaspel:
Yeah, I imagine that involved a few complications along the way, logistically (both men laughing).

Grudem:
Yes, but we worked well together and I’m thankful to God for how the process went.

 

Zaspel:
Indeed. All right, so it seems like the book is well represented scientifically, philosophically and theologically. Before we get into the biblical and theological issues that were your department in the book, can you give us a sample or two of the contributions made in these other categories? These were your areas of expertise, but maybe you can give us just a taste of what’s going on in the book in these other areas.

Grudem:
Well, I enjoyed the chapter by James Tour. He’s a synthetic organic chemist and a professor of nano engineering and some of the things, chemistry and computer science, at Rice University. He has over 600 research publications; and he has been named among the 50 most influential scientists in the world today. Well, he has a fascinating chapter showing how, if you take the world’s greatest scientists and laboratories and try to create a simple living organism or simple organic compounds from nonliving chemicals, it’s just impossible. And to think of the complexity of animal and plant and human life could be created by accident is just unbelievable.
Another interesting contributor was a German paleontologist, Gunter Bechly. He is an expert in the fossil history of insects and was the curator for amber and fossil insects at the state Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany. He has over 700 scientific articles and peer-reviewed journals, and he believed and taught the theory of Darwinian evolution for many years and eventually just realized that it was an unpersuasive theory and he had to reject it. So, he has the expertise in the fossil record.
There are a number of other chapters like that, that’re fascinating, showing just the scientific impossibility of living things coming about by random mutation and the Darwinian theory of evolution. So, that’s a very significant thing, because a number of Christians today are saying, especially people connected with the BioLogos Institute here in the United States and the Faraday Institute in the United Kingdom; they are saying that the theory of evolution is so clearly established, it’s absolutely certain from a scientific standpoint. And we have in this book 18 chapters on scientific challenges to evolution showing that it’s certainly not firmly established, but more recent scientific research raises so many questions about evolutionary theory that it has to seriously be called into question. Anyway, that’s the science section.
The book as a whole has twenty-five authors and thirty-three chapters dealing with evolution from a scientific, philosophical and Biblical viewpoint.

 

Zaspel:
Is there another book anything like this?

Grudem:
I don’t think so.

 

Zaspel:
I don’t think so, either. I wasn’t aware of one.
Let’s talk about the matters in your own area of concern – biblical and theological issues related to theistic evolution. What you press is that however theistic evolution may make sense as a concept, it is not allowable biblically – right?

Grudem:
Well, if you believe that Genesis 1 to 3 is true as a historical narrative of things that actually happened, you simply cannot accept the theory of evolution. It just contradicts far too many parts of the first three chapters of the Bible. And, Fred, that’s so important because in Genesis 1 to 3, Scripture teaches us essential truths about the activity of God in creation, the origin of the universe, the creation of plants and animals on the earth, the origin and unity of the human race, the creation of manhood and womanhood, the origin of marriage, the origin of human sin and human death and our need for redemption from sin. If we take away the foundation laid down in those three chapters in Genesis 1 to 3, the rest of the Bible really makes no sense; and many of the doctrines that are taught in Scripture would be undermined or lost. And so, Genesis 1 to 3, those chapters are essential to the rest of the Bible, but those who hold to theistic evolution today, like people at the BioLogos Institute, are denying that Genesis 1 to 3 is historically true. They’re saying that it’s poetic literature or it’s allegorical. But they’re denying so much of what is taught there as events that actually happened.

 

Zaspel:
Actually I think that’s one area where it is important to bring Warfield into the discussion, because he’s always pointed to as the inerrantist who believed in theistic evolution. Well, if that were true, that would be at least a powerful emotional argument. Whether it’s substantive or not is still another question, but it would be a powerful argument emotionally. But he made the distinction between what is allowable as a theistic concept must not be confused with what is allowable biblically and exegetically. And that’s the issue and you end up wondering, it seems to me, at least you have to do so much to Genesis 1-3 and so much to the rest of Scripture in order to have a theistic evolution that you have to wonder what is this theism after all?

Grudem:
I was very encouraged and convinced by your chapter, Fred, where you go through these twelve bits of information telling what theistic evolution implies about Genesis 1-3. At each one, you say Warfield did not hold to those things; but the believers in theistic evolution today do hold to those twelve points. And I think, for our listeners or readers, it would be helpful if I mentioned those twelve, if it’s all right with you.

 

Zaspel:
Yes, please do.

Grudem:
If you hold to theistic evolution, you basically are saying that God created matter; but after that he didn’t change the natural behavior of matter; he didn’t guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes, that is, random mutation and natural selection. And so, what happens to Genesis 1-3, you end up saying:

  1. Adam and Eve were not the first human beings. Perhaps Adam and Eve never even existed; but if there was an Adam and an Eve, they were just two people that God picked out of about 10,000 early human beings that were on the earth in the early history of the human race.
  2. Adam and Eve were not created without parents; but Adam and Eve had human parents.
  3. God didn’t act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground.
  4. God didn’t directly create Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side.
  5. Adam and Eve were never sinless human beings. They were sinful from the beginning.
  6. Adam and Eve didn’t commit the first human sins because human beings were committing morally evil acts long before this supposed Adam and Eve.
  7. Human death didn’t begin as a result of Adam’s sin, because human beings were dying for many years before Adam and Eve came along.
  8. Not all human beings have descended from Adam and Eve, because there were thousands of other people; and some people have descended, not from Adam and Eve, but from these other human beings.
  9. God didn’t directly act in the natural world to create different kinds of fish and birds and land animals as we see in Genesis, where these plants and animals reproduce after their kind.
  10. God didn’t rest from his work of creation or stop any special creative activity after plants, animals and human beings appeared on the earth.
  11. God never created an originally very good natural world in the sense of a world that was a safe environment, free of thorns and thistles in similar harmful things.
  12. After Adam and Eve sinned, God didn’t place any curse on the world that changed the workings of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.

I mean, when you give up all of those things, those twelve points, you’ve given up basically everything that is taught in Genesis 1-3, and you have to say, as Francis Collins says, that Genesis 1-3 is poetry and allegory; or as Dennis Alexander says, it’s figurative and theological literature; or as John Walton at Wheaton says, it’s stories about archetypes but doesn’t talk about any information about material human origins or biological human origins. So, basically, they say Genesis 1-3 is not claiming to be a report of actual historical events. But, Fred, as we look closely at Genesis 1-3 and how the rest of the Bible treats those chapters, we just have to understand them to be a record of historical events that tells us how God brought living things into being.

 

Zaspel:
I thought that those twelve areas that you raised and then that I addressed, in turn, with regard to Warfield, I thought they were an excellent way to look at it. Because, again, you can have this concept, this vague concept of theistic evolution, but somehow getting it to jive with Scripture is another issue. And those twelve issues highlight for us, I think very well, that Genesis 1-3 isn’t just an isolated piece of literature, but it’s an agenda-setting piece that sets the agenda for the rest of the book, all the way through the end of revelation. You start ripping it out and you make nonsense of the rest of the book.

Grudem:
And you actually demonstrated convincingly that Warfield did not hold to any of those twelve points. So he can’t be claimed as a proponent of theistic evolution. But the advocates of theistic evolution today do affirm those points. And I think, and others in the book are arguing, that you really can’t consistently say that you believe the Bible to be the truthful and authoritative and inerrant Word of God and hold to this viewpoint of theistic evolution.

 

Zaspel:
You have a couple of chapters following yours, investigating the question of theistic evolution exegetically, both Old Testament and New Testament. Are there some items there that you could give us a sample or two of?

Grudem:
We have some excellent chapters. John Currid, a PhD from the University of Chicago, is an Old Testament professor at Reformed Seminary in Charlotte North Carolina; and he goes through the grammar and syntax and then the historical content of Genesis 1 to 3 and shows, from his expertise in ancient near Eastern literature, how the claim that Genesis 1 to 3 is not giving us historical information about creation is just not consistent even with the way the ancient world talked about their different theories of origins. And so the people who claim that ancient theories of origins weren’t purported to tell us anything about how life began, that’s just incorrect. And those who claim that Genesis 1 to 3 is not historical narrative, just haven’t really dealt adequately with the grammar and syntax of those chapters, as well as the rest of the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, Guy Waters, who is a professor of New Testament at Reformed Seminary in Jackson Mississippi, goes through the entire New Testament and its teaching in many, many places, in 10 different books of the New Testament, that views the material in Genesis 1 to 3 as historical narrative that should be trusted and believed as truthful. And he spends a number of pages and quite a bit of time looking particularly at Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul makes parallels between Adam and Christ. And Prof. Waters shows that if you deny the historicity of Adam, how do we know that the New Testament is true in what it says about Christ? There is a connection; and denying the historicity of Genesis 1 to 3, and the historicity of the Fall, and the role of Adam in representing the human race has implications that would cause us eventually to undermine the teaching of the Atonement and the doctrine of the Resurrection. So, major issues are at stake in this controversy.
And then, Gregg Allison, the professor of Historical Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, shows how, through the history of the Church, people have required that those who hold teaching offices and leadership positions in the Church have not held to anything like theistic evolution; but have held to the necessity of believing the narrative in Genesis 1 to 3 as historically accurate. He points out an interesting thing – the Nicene Creed, which has been held by all branches of the Christian church since 325 and 381 AD says, I believe in God the Father Almighty… and then it goes on to say… He is the maker of all things, visible and invisible. But those who believe in theistic evolution today don’t hold to that. They can’t say that, because they don’t think that God is the maker of all things visible, that is, the plants and animals and human beings that we see all around us. Those are things, visible, but theistic evolution really can’t say that God is the maker of those things in any sense in which ‘maker’ was intended by the original wording of the Nicene Creed. So, I think that’s a significant objection.

 

Zaspel:
Who is your intended audience? Is this book just for experts?

Grudem:
No, not at all. I’ve been encouraged by friends here in Arizona and other interested Christians in my church and my social circles who have begun to read the book and have said that this is a remarkable book and is so informative. We’re basically aiming, as you know, Fred, at interested adult Christian readers. Well, even high school, I believe. Christian readers who are wondering if they should believe in the theory of theistic evolution, or believe in the theory of evolution at all, or if there are good reasons to reject it. I think it’s written at a level where you don’t have to… I’m not an expert in scientific matters, but I found the science chapters and the philosophy chapters to be very readable from even the perspective of a person who doesn’t have expertise in those areas.

 

Zaspel:
The book is still very new, but have you seen significant feedback yet? Have you been encouraged?

Grudem:
I’ve had some private conversations that have encouraged me, private conversations with people who have appreciated the book and been thankful for it, and private conversations with people who have disagreed with it, but they don’t seem to be, so far, able to answer its arguments. So, we wait and see what happens, but the book is really getting a very positive response. The first printing sold out very quickly and Crossway has gone back to press with another printing of the book.

 

Zaspel:
Glad to hear it! It’s a wonderful contribution. And we have made it through – both of us with a cold – but we have made it through and I appreciate your talking to us.
We’re talking to Dr. Wayne Grudem, co-editor of the important new book, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. It’s a major new resource that no serious student of the debate will want to be without. We encourage you to pick up a copy – for yourself and for your pastor.

Wayne, thanks so much for your good work and for talking to us today.

Grudem:
Thank you, Fred; and thank you for your good contribution to the book.

Editor’s Note: Below are some videos by other editors of the book that you may find interesting.

 

Buy the books

Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique

Crossway, 2017 | 1008 pages