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8.7 Theistic evolution

Theistic evolution is the view that, instead of faith being in opposition to biological evolution, some or all classical religious teachings about God and creation are compatible with some or all of modern scientific theory, including, specifically, evolution. It views evolution as a tool used by a creator god, who is both the first cause and immanent sustainer/upholder of the universe. Theistic evolution agrees with the day-age interpretation of the Genesis creation account; however most adherents consider that the first chapters of Genesis should not be interpreted as a “literal” description, but rather as a literary framework or allegory.

Theistic evolutionists have frequently been prominent in opposing creationism including Intelligent Design. Theistic evolutionists have been active in “Citizens Alliances for Science” that oppose the introduction of creationism into public school science classes.

Theistic evolution and evolutionary creationism are similar concepts that assert that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with much or all of the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. In short, theistic evolutionists believe that there is a God, that he is (in some way) the creator of the material universe and all life within, and that biological evolution is simply a natural process within that creation. Evolution, according to this view, is simply a tool that God created and employed to help life grow and flourish.

Theistic evolution is not a theory in the scientific sense, but a particular view about how the science of evolution relates to religious belief and interpretation. Theistic evolution supporters are part of the groups who reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science, that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict.

8.7.1 Acceptance

This view is accepted by major Christian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and some mainline Protestant denominations, some Jewish denominations and other religious groups that lack a literalist stance concerning some holy scriptures. Various biblical literalists have accepted, or noted openness to this stance, including theologian B.B. Warfield and evangelist Billy Graham.

With this approach toward evolution, scriptural creation stories are interpreted as allegorical in nature. Both Jews and Christians have considered the idea of the creation history as an allegory, instead of a historical description, long before the development of Darwin’s theory. Examples are:

I-      In Christianity, the earlier writings by St. Augustine

II-    The Jewish writings by Philo of Alexandria (1st century), Maimonides (12th century) and Gersonides (13th century).

Theistic evolutionists argue that it is inappropriate to use Genesis as a scientific text, since it was written in a pre-scientific age, and originally intended only for religious instruction. Theistic evolutionists may believe that creation is not literally a week long process, but a process beginning in the time of Genesis and continuing through all of time, including today. God created the world and was the primary causation of our being, while evolution is part of continuing creation.

The term evolutionary creationism refers to an understanding of God that transcends yet includes normal time and space, with nature having no existence independent of God. It allows interpretations consistent with both literal and poetic readings of Genesis and objective science.

8.7.2 Definition

Theistic evolution holds that the acceptance of evolutionary biology is not fundamentally different from the acceptance of other sciences, such as astronomy or meteorology. In this view, it is held both religiously and scientifically correct to reinterpret ancient religious texts in line with modern-day scientific findings about evolution.

This synthesis of science with the teleology underlying faith and religious teachings can still be described as creationism as it holds that divine intervention brought about the origin of life or that divine Laws govern formation of species. But, in the creation-evolution controversy, its proponents generally take the “evolutionist” side. For this reason, some on both sides prefer to use the term “theistic evolution” over “evolutionary creationism” to describe this belief.

8.7.3 Criticism

The major criticism of theistic evolution by non-theistic evolutionists focuses on its belief in a supernatural creator. By the application of Occam’s razor, sufficient explanation of the phenomena of evolution is provided for non-theistic evolutionists by the principle of natural selection, and the intervention or direction of a supernatural entity is not required.

Young Earth creationists criticise theistic evolution on theological grounds no being able to reconcile the nature of a loving God with the process of evolution, in particular, the existence of death and suffering before the Fall of Man. They consider that it undermines central biblical teachings by regarding the creation account as a myth, a parable, or an allegory, instead of believing that it is a historical report.

8.7.4 Relationship to Intelligent Design

Some adherents of theistic evolution hold that the deity both designed the universe and has a continuing part in its development, and feel that a term they favour has been hijacked by the proponents of “Intelligent design”.