Thursday, April 04, 2019

Grudem gets Theistic Evolution all wrong

Grr. I really do not understand how people can make such bad arguments. It is infuriating. And when it comes from someone with a reputation as a scholar (in this case, Wayne Grudem), it is doubly infuriating.

My current vent is related to the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique.  This is a pro “Intelligent Design” book, and as such it takes a critical view of theistic evolution. Fair enough. However, if you are going to present a criticism, it should be done without the use of fallacious arguments. Otherwise you are either simply preaching to the choir, or being lazy, or both. You are taking cheap shots, nothing more.

First, I will define theistic evolution. I will use this non-controversial definition:
Theistic Evolution: The belief that the world’s extensive fossil record and modern genetic science point to God using evolution as a secondary means to create the diversity of life on Earth. Furthermore, as God is acknowledged as sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscient, (it is theistic evolution after all) there is an acknowledgement that the process was never outside of God’s control.
That’s it. That is the definition that (I think) the majority if not all theistic evolutionists will support. It is the least common denominator.

Among theistic evolutionists, there is, as you might expect, a spectrum of views on how to read the creation account found in Genesis into their theistic evolutionism. Whatever those attempts at reconciliation are, and they are diverse, they are not theistic evolution. They represent diverse exegeses and hermeneutics that theistic evolutionists employ to make personal sense out of Genesis, but they are not theistic evolution.

This is not unlike, say, the Regulative Principle (RP). Everyone (I suppose) who supports the RP affirms its basic definition: worship only in a manner as prescribed by scripture.  Yet among those affirming the RP there is a spectrum from: only sing Psalms with no instruments to, say, sing mostly Psalms and lots of different instruments are fine. You do not argue against the RP by choosing one of the spectrum’s extreme readings of it, say Calvin’s “no instruments at all” view, and claim to be making a coherent case against the RP. No, it is an argument against Calvin’s application of the RP. To make such an argument using Calvin as the example, and then claim you are making a valid argument about the RP itself, is to make a fallacious strawman argument.

That is exactly what Grudem does when he argues against theistic evolution. He makes a brazen strawman argument. Grudem writes that there are twelve theistic evolution beliefs that conflict with the Genesis account. The twelve Grudem enumerates are:
  1. Adam and Eve were not the first human beings (and perhaps they never existed).
  2. Adam and Eve were born from human parents.
  3. God did not act directly or specially to create Adam out of dust from the ground
  4. God did not directly create Eve from a rib taken from Adam’s side.
  5. Adam and eve were never sinless human beings.
  6. Adam and Eve did not commit the first human sins, for human beings were doing morally evil things long before Adam and Eve
  7. Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.
  8. Not all human beings have descended from Adam and Eve, for there were thousands of other human beings on Earth at the time God chose two of them as Adam and Eve.
  9. God did not directly act in the world to create different “kinds” of fish, birds, and land animals.
  10. God did not “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 and similar harmful things.
  12. After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not place any curse on the world that changes the workings of the natural world and made it more hostile to mankind.
If Grudem is making a coherent argument against anything, it would be against scientific deism, not theistic evolution.

Professor Grudem: theistic evolution does not deny that the God of the universe could interact or intervene or specially create or any of the things you seem to think it does deny. It does not deny that God could use special creation along side of evolutionary processes, not unlike using special creation of the universe along side of gravitation. It says only that all the scientific evidence suggests that God utilized evolutionary processes to create bio-diversity.  It has nothing to say regarding the Genesis account, and some theistic evolutionists deny the historicity of Adam and Eve, and some (such as myself) do not. Just like some RP advocates think snare drums are fine, and some do not. 

Of the twelve points Grudem makes, the only one that is general enough to (mostly) apply to theistic evolution is  number 9, God did not directly act in the world to create different “kinds” of fish, birds, and land animals.  But that is just a tautology. Grudem might as well have written, as a criticism, that theistic evolutionists do not deny evolution. Of the other eleven, none are demanded by the definition of theistic evolution. Not one.

Number 10, by the way, is more of a problem for Young Earth Creationists like Grudem than for theistic evolutionists, for YECs need a postdiluvian unrestful frenzy of special creation if they want to avoid the alternative of an unscientific hyper-evolution.

And yes, Grudem (it’s inevitable) moves from the strawman fallacy to the slippery slope fallacy, with the expected: “a number of crucial Christian doctrines that depend on these events will be undermined or lost."

I would have bet the farm that he would, as he did, move from one to the other.  Fortunately I didn’t get the memo that if I believe in theistic evolution I must deny crucial Christian doctrines.

In a future post, I will address my views vis-a-vis all twelve of Grudem's "problems".


  1. “a number of crucial Christian doctrines that depend on these events will be undermined or lost."

    Is this a direct quote from Grudem? If so, he should apply this to ESS which denies crucial Christian doctrines.

  2. David4:27 PM

    Exact quote, page 786.

  3. Travis7:04 AM

    Looking forward to your follow-up about the twelve problems! YEC, while seemingly harmonious with Scripture, I think causes all sorts of problems with regard to God apparently creating Creation in an awfully deceptive way.

  4. Thanks. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your reaction.

  5. P. S. Is "evolutionary creationism" the same thing as "theistic evolution?"