How Much Evolution Is Too Much?

By 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 two 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 view point 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 that 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. Dr. Bert Thompson, Executive Director of Apologetics Press and long-time lecturer on Evidences among institutional brethren, expressed it this way:

Is progressive creationism theistic evolution? Both call in God to start creation. Both accept evolution (in varying amounts). Both accept the validity of the geologic age system. Both postulate an old Earth. Where is the difference, except that progressive creationism allow God “a little more to do in the system”? Both systems put God (theos) and evolution together. By any other standard that’s theistic evolution (Creation Compromises [1995] 193).

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:

It is currently fashionable for theistic evolutionists to go by the name “Progressive Creationists” in order to avoid the popular resentment in Christian circles against evolution and its non-theistic orientation. In practice, however, both views are essentially the same. The difference merely concerns the amount of God’s intervention within the evolutionary process (Niessen, Significant Discrepancies Between Theistic Evolution and the Bible, 1980, 16; as quoted from Thompson, 193).

Dr. Bolton Davidheiser, a long-time 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. 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.

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 the 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