Can Christians believe in evolution and still believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Let me put this question in another way: does the theory of evolution contradict what the Bible has to say about creation and God’s role as the creator?
An evangelical Biblical scholar and an evangelical professor of physics say that the answer to both questions is: “No.” This answer is the premise of an interesting book that every Christian should read and reread in order to learn how to reconcile the views of evolution with the teachings of the Bible.
The book in question is Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origin (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010). The book was written by Richard F. Carlson, Professor of Physics at the University of Redlands and by Tremper Longman III, Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.
I do not know much about Carlson. He is the general editor of Science and Christianity: Four Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000). I have not read this book yet, but I have included it on my summer reading list.
Most students of the Old Testament know Tremper Longman. He is a widely published scholar, with solid evangelical credentials. Longman has written or edited more than twenty books, among them is How to Read Genesis (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005).
At the beginning of the book, both Carlson and Longman affirm their Christian commitment and their acceptance of what the Bible teaches about creation. In addition, both affirm the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, that the Bible was given by divine inspiration, and that it is the written Word of God. I emphasize these three theological statements in order to show that the writers have the scientific and theological credentials to claim that science and the Bible are not in conflict with each other and that one can be a committed Christian and still believe in evolution.
The book contains an introduction and it is then divided into seven chapters. In the Introduction, Carlson and Longman introduce themselves and how they came together to collaborate on this project. What motivated the authors to write this book was their desire to help Christians who struggle with the issue of what the Bible says about creation and what contemporary science has to say about the origins of life on earth. Carlson and Longman believe that it is possible to reconcile the claims of modern science with the teachings of the Bible.
Carlson and Longman propose the following thesis for the development of their book (p. 14):
The first two chapters of Genesis, which accurately present two accounts of creation in terms of ancient Hebrew scientific observations and their historical understanding, are neither historical nor scientific in the twenty-first-century literal sense. Instead, the underlying message of these chapters applies for all time and constitutes a complete statement of the worldview of the Hebrew people in the ancient Near East. They accurately understood the universe in terms of why God created it but not how in the modern scientific and historical sense. This worldview, markedly different from those of their pagan neighbors, articulates the principles underlying their understanding of the relation of God to the universe, their relation to the true God, and their relation to each other and to the created order.
Chapter 1 deals with the “Theological and Scientific Sources and Their Interpretation.” The theological source for creation theology is the Bible, primarily Genesis 1 and 2. The scientific source for the origin of the universe begins with the big bang and science’s understanding of the beginning of life.
Chapter 2 deals with the “Characteristics of Theology and Science Relevant to the Conflict.” In this chapter the authors discuss how theology and science deal with knowledge and how information is interpreted and conclude that “properties of the universe and theological truth go well beyond our limited direct experience and common sense” (p. 33).
Chapter 3 addresses the issue of “Biblical Interpretation–A Key Element in Resolving the Creation-Evolution Conflict.” The authors affirm that a careful interpretation of the Biblical texts is a key factor in resolving the conflict between the creation and evolution.
Chapter 4 studies “Creation in the Old Testament.” The authors begin their study of creation by studying Isaiah 40, Proverbs 3:19-20 and 8:22-31, Job 38-41, and Psalms 8, 19, 33, 74, 104, 145, and 148.
Chapter 5 studies “Creation in the New Testament,” The authors study John 1, Romans 1:18-20, 8:19-23, and Hebrews 1:1-4.
In Chapter 6 the authors study the two most important passages dealing with creation: “Genesis 1:1-2:23 and Genesis 2:4-25.” After providing a careful exegesis of the texts, the authors come to the following conclusions. First, the two creation accounts in Genesis parallel other creation stories in the Ancient Near East. However, Israel reinterpreted these stories in light of its understanding of Yahweh as the only God and the true creator of the world.
Second, the two creations present different perspectives of God’s creation and cannot be read as literal historical accounts of how the world was created. They represent “the ancient Hebrew’s understanding of cosmic history” (p. 126). The purpose of the creation stories in Genesis is theological. These stories were written to provide the proper understanding of the God of Israel as the true and universal God and the role human beings play in God’s creation.
Chapter 7, “Genesis 1 and 2 as a Worldview Statement of the Ancient People of Israel,” summarizes the argument presented in the book. Carlson’s and Longman’s conclusion is that the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are statements expressing the worldview of ancient Israel. This worldview affirmed that the God of Israel, not the gods of Babylon, created human beings in his own image and likeness. In addition, human beings were not created to be the slaves of the gods, but that they were commanded to have dominion over God’s creation.
Carlson’s and Longman’s concluding statement is very pertinent, especially for people who struggle with the issue of creation and evolution. They wrote (p. 136-137):
This worldview understanding brings the creation-evolution conflict to an end, for now Genesis 1 does not refer to current science. Hence, there is no conflict between Genesis 1 and current scientific thought. It is completely consistent for a person to be a serious scientist, even a biologist, earth scientist or cosmologist and, at the same time a serious follower of Jesus, using the entire Bible as that person’s foundational book and guide to life. And, just as God declared the entire creation to be very good (Gen 1:31), so a scientist can praise God for every scientific discovery. For each scientific discovery makes it clearer and clearer just how God creates, but not why he created. Genesis 1 and 2 do tell us that God is the creator and why he created, but Genesis 1 and 2 do not give us any information about how God created. The mechanism, or the how, of creation are the purview of the scientific community.
I cited the two long quotes above to put the argument of the writers in a proper context. It is sad that many Christians still refuse to see that the Bible is not in conflict with science. Those who do, need to read this book. Carlson and Longman have gone a long way to demonstrate their commitment to the Bible as the Word of God in order to affirm that there is no contradiction between the Bible and science, between Christian faith and contemporary science.
I have decided to require my students to read Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origin in my course “The Pentateuch.” The reason I will require them to read this book is because ministers today deal with people who reject Christianity because they believe Christians have an outdated scientific view of reality. People outside the church must realize that there is no conflict between the Bible and science, but in order for them to come to that realization, that the church is not out of touch with reality, we must teach future pastors that science is not an enemy of the Christian faith.
I hope this review will motivate you to buy this book, to read it, and then consider the argument Carlson and Longman are making. If you also come to the conclusion that there is no conflict between the Biblical view of creation and the scientific theory of origin, then Carlson and Longman have achieved their goal.
I want to thank Tremper Longman and InterVarsity Press for making the book available for review.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary