The question on its face is fair given that old earth creationists (OEC) appear to accept scientific consensus on everything but human evolution. But the question’s assumptions must be examined and its terms should be defined. First, I do not believe scientific consensus should dictate what I believe regarding human beings if that consensus appears in conflict with inspired Scripture.
In Controversy of the Ages,Ted Cabal and Peter Rasor, Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should Not Divide Over the Age of the Earth (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2018). I have documented that just this position has prevailed in the history of science/theology controversies by those holding to the infallibility of the Bible. I have called this oft unrecognized view “the conservatism principle.” When a new scientific theory arises in apparent conflict with longstanding biblical understanding, Christians generally have refused to wed the two. But if over time the theory gains broader scientific acceptance, Christians have entertained a cautious courtship between the two. “Hybrid” theories arise which adapt parts of the theory to a modified biblical interpretation. If eventually the scientific theory seems “proven” against traditional biblical interpretations, Christians have assumed they had misinterpreted the Bible. This historical process has occurred frequently through the centuries.Ibid., 40-47. For examples regarding “theories of the earth” see 101-119; for young earth creationist examples see 151-167.
Copernican and Darwinian Controversies
Happily, only two major science/theology controversies have occurred (as opposed to the common warfare misunderstanding): the Copernican and the Darwinian.Ibid., 15-20. Galileo himself proposed during the first major conflict that two assumptions should guide Christians at such times: (1) Assume biblical inerrancy but not infallible interpretation; (2) Assume no contradictions exist between the Bible and nature because both are God’s books.Since Darwin, evangelicals have consistently resisted what we might term the “evolutionary package,” of which the notion of human ancestry is just a part. On these assumptions, Galileo proposed that unproven scientific theories should not hold sway over traditional biblical interpretations. And he argued that proven scientific theories reveal that traditional biblical interpretations are wrong. Historically the devil has been in the details in what has constituted a “proven” theory. But Galileo’s proposal was just the way the heliocentrism controversy eventually was resolved—and virtually all lesser conflicts through the centuries (such as the nature of fossils or continental drift).Ibid., 27-49.
Yet the Darwinian controversy has remained “a new kind of controversy altogether.”Ibid., 51-71. Thus the terms “evolution” and “human evolution” need be delineated. For example, the problem for most conservative evangelicals today is not speciation. Many leading young earth creationists (YEC) themselves have embraced a surprising notion of rapid widespread speciation within the created kinds.Ibid., 162-167. And it is hardly controversial that changes due to things such as climate, diet, and lifestyle have led to phenotypic differences in Homo sapiens.
On its face, the question regarding human evolution has to do with whether we share common ancestry with the great apes. Obviously conservative evangelicals (me included) have resisted such a notion since before Darwin. But since Darwin, evangelicals have consistently resisted what we might term the “evolutionary package,” of which the notion of human ancestry is just a part. Scientific consensus also includes the notion that human minds and morality evolved from non-human animals.Ibid., 62-63, 60-70. Indeed, religious beliefs themselves are routinely considered to have arisen by evolution.Ibid., 215, esp. fn 93. Human evolutionary theory encompasses much more than our bodies.
What’s in the Package?
Indeed the “evolutionary package” spawned methodological naturalism, making scientific consensus uncomfortable with all explanations suggesting a Creator. So, should belief in human evolution include rejection of origin of the universe and origin of life theories which implicate a Creator? What about fine-tuning? If acceptance of scientific consensus necessitates belief in (scientific) methodological naturalism, what then justifies Christians who reject historical methodological naturalism? Historians, too, have a consensus that supernatural explanations are not to be part of their work.
Of course, some of the issues above are philosophical rather than scientific in nature, and we might include the debates regarding just what constitutes “science” and “consensus.” But the point remains that belief in “human evolution” is more complex than just believing that God might have chosen to use evolution to produce the human body. Scientific consensus regarding human evolution involves a complex “package” of interwoven ideas seeking to explain the origin of the universe/life to the mind and morals of Homo sapiens, all by natural means.
Most troubling is the way the evolutionary package, unlike any other science/theology controversy, led some Christians historically not only to revise central Christian doctrines but even their understanding of the nature of Scripture itself. Theological liberals found in evolution a new justification and ground for theological revision.Ibid., 67-68. It seems to me that many major evangelical ECs seek to adopt as much of the evolutionary package as possible, even if it means rejecting much of the Church’s longstanding “package.”Surprisingly, some evangelical evolutionary creationists (EC) today not only are uncomfortable with anything approaching a traditional understanding of the creation and fall of Adam, but also with a high view of biblical inspiration itself.Ibid., 180-184. I fully accept Galileo’s proposal to entertain examination of biblical interpretations which might be wrong. But I’m not willing to entertain a proposal that scientific consensus necessitates believing the Bible is in error.
It seems to me that many major evangelical ECs seek to adopt as much of the evolutionary package as possible, even if it means rejecting much of the Church’s longstanding “package.” Evangelicals historically have especially believed in critical doctrines such as salvation by grace through faith in Christ. But this Christ and his salvation have come to us by means of the word of God, the Bible. Our confidence in our Savior is inextricably linked with the Bible which presents him to us; God’s “package” plan. I submit that normally the one who has come to know Christ intuits this association. Confidence in their Savior comes wrapped with the same gift of confidence in the Bible. Most have never had access or even know about the rich resources of Christian apologetics. They would not know how to defend against philosophical, scientific, or historical attacks against core biblical doctrines and the Bible itself. Yet their confidence remains because it is grounded in God’s bringing them to know him personally and savingly.
Therefore, I remain wary of the human evolution package for many reasons. My concern grows because to date its current evangelical proponents have been unable to instill similar confidence in the Church’s great gift, the Bible. I also am content to live with unanswered questions in the face of scientific consensus. My acquaintance with the history of science/theology debates remind me to be humble: I’m no scientist and I can be wrong in my understanding of God’s word. But knowledge of this history also helps me be patient. God is not obligated to answer every science/theology question in my generation. As much as I could wish, I likely will not live to see evangelical consensus on these issues.
Areopagite: Old but Not Evolving