By James C. Raketraw, PE, CFM
The purpose of this series of articles is to explore theistic evolution (also termed Evolutionary Creation) as it relates to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). This series has four parts which will explore four basic questions as follows:
- Where is theistic evolution found within the PCA?
- How did theistic evolution come to the PCA?
- How does theistic evolution differ from the Christian church’s traditional view of Creation?
- What are some Impacts of theistic evolution on the PCA?
Part 2: How did Theistic Evolution Come to the PCA?
Theistic evolution has been present in the evangelical community for some time. The process by which theistic evolution became accepted within the PCA appears to be similar to the process by which of theistic evolution became accepted within the broader evangelical community. The acceptance of theistic evolution within the PCA may be considered as journey that had several significant milestones as follows:
Milestones 1, Evangelicals misunderstand science and reinterpret the Bible to accommodate uniformitarian geology: Some evangelicals misunderstood science and lost confidence in the literal reading of God’s word. This misunderstanding of science began in the 1800’s and continues today. The “conflict between science and the Bible” began in the early 1800 was acceptance of uniformitarian geology by academics. Uniformitarian geology concluded that the earth was much older than the six to 10 thousand year age developed from a plain reading of scripture.
Some evangelicals accommodated long ages of the earth by developing two new interpretations Genesis 1 during the 1830’s. These new interpretations were termed the Ruin-Restoration Interpretation (Gap Theory) and the Day- Age Interpretation. Both are examples of “Concordism.” This term is used to describe interpretations of Genesis which attempt to preserve Genesis as history while harmonizing the Bible with secular science.
This milestone is significant because it established a pattern for evangelicals to deal with the “conflict between science and the Bible.” The basic pattern is this: whenever “science” discovers something that disagrees with the Bible, evangelicals look for new ways to reinterpret the Bible to bring it into conformity with “science.” This pattern was established in the 1830’s and has continued ever since.
Milestone 2, Evangelicals struggle with the theory of evolution: Those who reconciled the Bible to uniformitarian geology believed that they had solved the problem of the “conflict between science and the Bible”; they had not. A new “conflict between science and the Bible” was about to be introduced. The publishing of theory of evolution in 1859 introduced at a new “conflict between science and the Bible.” In 1859, On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life was published. In 1872 the title was shortened to On the Origin of the Species. It was authored by Charles Darwin (1809-1882). The new findings” of “science” concluded that humankind evolved from lower life forms rather than being created by God.
The theory of evolution started to be accepted within the leadership mainline protestant denominations soon after it was introduced. However, within the mainline denominations there were many who believed in the traditional view of creation. The Scopes Trail of 1925 highlighted the conflict between the theory of evolution and the traditional view of creation. John T. Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act (1925) which prohibited teaching evolutionary theory in public universities and public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented Scopes. In 1950, the Roman Catholic Church announces that there was no conflict between Christianity and evolution. Some evangelicals accepted evolution in the 1800’s; however, most did not. Evolution first acquired a noticeable voice in evangelical churches in the 1950’s. This voice was heard primarily through the American Scientific Affiliation which was founded in 1941. By the 1950’s evolution had become a topic of discussion among evangelicals.
This milestone is significant because evolution does not require the God of the Bible or any other god. The closest that Christians can get to evolution is theistic evolution – the idea that God chose evolution as a method of creation. However, the scientific consensus does not recognize theistic evolution as being scientific. In addition theistic evolution cannot be accommodated by concordant interpretations of creation.
Milestone 3, Discordant Interpretations of Scripture become popular in evangelical seminaries: Discordism is a term used to describe interpretations of Genesis gives lip service to preserving Genesis as history. The trust of discordism is to remove the Bible from scientific and historical discussion by using various literary interpretations and devices. This requires elaborate reinterpreting certain passages. The first example of discordism was the Analogical Day Interpretation which originated in the 1890’s. In 1994 the Analogical Day Interpretation is introduced in the U.S. by John C. Collins, a seminary professor at Covenant Seminary (PCA), St. Louis, Missouri. A second example of discord ism is the Framework Interpretation. In 1924, Dr. Arie Noordzij of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands became the first proponent of the Framework Interpretation. In 1958, a paper titled “Because it Had Not Rained” was published in the Journal of Westminster Seminary. It was authored by Dr. Meredith Kline (1922-2008), an OPC ordained academic. Basically, Kline presented Genesis 2:5 to be a proof text for the world being created by natural means; he considered the language of Genesis 1 to be symbolic. Kline became the most prominent proponent of the Framework Interpretation in the U.S.
Both the Analogical Day and Framework views are listed in the PCA Report (2001) and supports of these views state that the views do not support theistic evolution. In addition, the PCA Report did not list theistic evolution as an acceptable view within the PCA.
In 1996, Dr. Kline authored another article titled “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” (Space and Time). It was published by the American Scientific Affiliation. The paper was an expansion of his 1958 paper, “Because it Had Not Rained.” In the paper, Kline, introduces the concept of “Upper and Lower Registers Cosmology”. In the last sentence of “Space and Time”, Kline triumphantly concludes that “…the false conflict between the Bible and science disappears, when we recognize that the creation week is a lower register metaphor for God’s upper register creation-time and that the sequence of the “days is ordered is ordered not chronologically but thematically.” Footnote number 47 of the article (not quoted in entirety hare) references this last sentence of the article and states: “In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical Scripture is open to a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of an evolutionary origin of man. “ Footnote number 47 continues and in this continuation, Kline claims acceptance of “… Adam as an historic individual…”
The acceptance of discordant views creation has done much to open the evangelical community to evolution. Proponents of discordant views “solve” the problem of “the conflict between science and the Bible” by finding literary devices that can be used to justify long ages and evolution. However, the problem of the “conflict between science and the Bible “was not solved. The current theistic evolution discussion has gone far beyond the evolutionary origin of Adam. The current discussion within the theistic evolution community is to consider Adam is a representative of a group rather than an individual. In addition question the doctrine of original sin is now being questioned.
This milestone is significant because discordant views of scripture allow for theistic evolution. Discordant views also allow for questioning the historicity of Adam, the doctrine of original sin and any other Biblical doctrine. Today, discordant views of creation are taught at most of the seminaries that supply pastoral candidates to the PCA.
Milestone 4, The PCA’s desire for growth brings in more diversity on views of creation:
In 1982 the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) is received into the PCA. The RPCES was the product of the merger of two smaller Presbyterian groups that merged in 1965. The PCA roots were in the Southern Presbyterian denomination which had a stronger commitment to the literal view of creation than the RPCES.
This milestone is significant because it demonstrated that a number of views of creation would be tolerated within the PCA. It also demonstrated that denominational growth was more important that a literal view of creation.
Milestone 5, The PCA Report on creation fails to take a firm stand against evolution: In 2001 the PCA Report was adopted by the 28th GA. The PCA Report was an outstanding contribution to the creation discussion. The supporters of all views of creation within the PCA (Calendar-Day, Day Age, Analogical Day, and Framework) stated that their view did not support evolution. Thus, a rejection of evolution was implied in the PCA Report but not specifically stated. In contrast, the Southern Presbyterian denomination (from which the PCA has roots) declares evolution to be out of accord with Scripture and the Confession in 1886, 1888, 1889, and in 1924.
This milestone is significant because it established several views of creation within the PCA. The desire to maintain unity within the denomination is an element of the PCA Report. In addition, the PCA Report did not take a firm stand against theistic evolution. The lack of a firm stand against theistic evolution has encouraged some leaders within the PCA to give theistic evolution high profile support.
Milestone 6, Theistic evolution is aggressively promoted within the evangelical community: The aggressive promotion of theistic evolution is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and the BioLogos Foundation. Both groups use grants and honors to promote theistic evolution within the evangelical community. The point is illustrated form the following:
“In 2012 BioLogos established a new competitive granting program called Evolution and Christian Faith. With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, more than $3.6 million in grants was awarded to over three dozen individuals and teams from sixteen states and six different countries. Their projects aim to address theological and philosophical concerns commonly voiced by Christians about evolutionary creation in a way that is relevant to the church. Over three years, they plan to generate hundreds of resources, including videos, websites, articles, teaching materials, books, and seminars. Their work is already impacting the lives of students, the ministry of pastors, and the scholarly debates of academia.” (portions excerpted from www.biologs.org/about-us/our-history )
Another example of the Templeton Foundation’s activities is illustrated by the Creation Project. In 2015, the Templeton Religion Trust awards a $3.4 million grant to the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Henry Center) in 2015 for a project called Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation (known in short as the “Creation Project”). The Creation Project is described as:
“….a three-year, six-program initiative intended to bring greater clarity, openness, and understanding about the doctrine of creation within the evangelical theological community in light of modern scientific discovery. In addition to providing wider guidance to the evangelical public, the project is also intended to stimulate interdisciplinary scholarship and engagement on the controversial issues at the intersection of Scripture, theology, and scientific discovery.”
Information and quotation were excerpted on 5/4/16 from: www.covenantseminary.edu/the-thistle/Collins-research-fellowship
The project has a three year timeframe. The themes for the years are as follows:
Year 1 (2016-2017) “Reading Genesis in an Age of Science”
Year 2 (2017-2018) “Affirming the Doctrine of Creation in an Age of Science”
Year 3 (2018-2019) “Reclaiming Theological Antropology in an Age of Science”
More information may be obtained by visiting the project website: www.henrycenter.tiu.edu/creation
Dr. C. John Collins of Covenant Seminary (PCA) in St. Louis will be involved with the Year 1 activities. His contribution to the Creation Project is described as:
“During the first year, the group will be focusing on the topic of “Reading Genesis in an Age of Science.” Dr. Collins’s particular focus will be on “Genesis 1–11: Poetry, History, Science, Truth.”
This milestone is significant because it shows that much the current creation discussion is being driven by those outside the evangelical community such as the Templeton Foundation. Much of the content of materials prepared for the creation discussion is being driven by grants and honors bestowed by the Templeton Foundation and the Biologos Foundation. Some of the PCA’s leaders are involved in the activities of the Templeton Foundation and the BioLogos Foundation.
 Elements of the evangelical misunderstanding of science include:
- Operational science is not distinguished from forensic science.
- The conclusions of the scientific consensus do not represent the entire scientific community and are never the final word on any subject.
- The conclusions of the scientific consensus are subject to change.
- “Natural revelation” is merely the opinion of the scientific consensus.
- “General revelation is not equivalent to “natural revelation.”
- “General revelation” is limited in scope to making the unbeliever aware of the fact that there is a God.
 Evangelicals began to rigorously examine science and creation in the 1960’s. Today there are a number of creationist groups such as Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, and the Institute for Creation Research which answers the claims of the scientific consensus. Today, the scientific basis for creation is stronger than ever.