“Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” by Tim Keller

Tim Keller

Many thanks to John Halton over at Confessing Evangelical for linking to “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” (PDF), an intriguing essay by Tim Keller on attempts to reconcile Christianity and evolution. With the rise of both the “new atheists” and the “intelligent design” movement in recent years, it seems like the tension between religion and science, Christianity and evolution, has never been greater. Or, as Keller puts it (emphasis mine):

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one truism’ — that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. They have a very positive view of science. How then, can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their traditional theological beliefs? Seekers and inquirers about Christianity can be even more perplexed. They may be drawn to many things about the Christian faith, but, they say, “I don’t see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science.”

However, there are many who question the premise that science and faith are irreconcilable. Many believe that a high view of the Bible does not demand belief in just one account of origins. They argue that we do not have to choose between an anti-science religion or an anti-religious science. They think that there are a variety of ways in which God could have brought about the creation of life forms and human life using evolutionary processes, and that the picture of incompatibility between orthodox faith and evolutionary biology is greatly overdrawn.

Early in the essay, Keller identifies four difficulties that evolution presents for Christians:

  1. Evolution requires that we see Genesis 1 as non-literal, which undermines the Bible’s authority and trustworthiness.
  2. If we agree that evolution explains the biological origins of life, then we must accept evolution as the explanation for every other aspect of our existence (e.g., cognition, morality).
  3. Evolution challenges the historicity of Adam and Eve, and therefore, challenges traditional Christian notions of sin and suffering.
  4. Christians believe that violence and death were not part of God’s original creation, but that they entered into creation via the Fall. However, violence and death are part of the evolutionary process.

Keller then spends the rest of the essay answering the first three objections, as they are the ones raised most often by the laypeople with whom he has interacted (he lumps objection #4 in with #3). The essay itself is relatively short, but very fascinating and intriguing. I’ve included a few excerpts below.

On Biblical authority and authorial intent:

The way to take the Biblical authors seriously is to ask how does this author want to be understood?’ This is common courtesy as well as good reading. Indeed it is a way to practice the Golden Rule. We all want people to take time to consider whether we want to be taken literally or not. If you write a letter to someone saying, “I just wanted to strangle him!” you will hope your reader understands you to be speaking metaphorically. If she calls the police to arrest you, you can rightly complain that she should have made the effort to ascertain whether you meant to be taken literally or not.


This does not mean that the Biblical author’s intent and the genre are always clear. Genesis 1 and the book of Ecclesiastes are two examples of places in the Bible where there will always be debate, because the signs are not crystal clear. But the principle is this — to assert that one part of Scripture shouldn’t be taken literally does not at all mean that no other parts should be either.

On evolution as a biological process verses evolution as a worldview:

If you believe human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes (from here on, referred to as EBP), you must therefore believe in the Grand Theory of Evolution (from here on, referred to as GTE) as the explanation for every aspect of human nature.


GTE is fast becoming what Peter Berger calls a plausibility structure’. It is a set of beliefs considered so basic, and with so much support from authoritative figures and institutions, that it is becoming impossible for individuals to publicly question them. A plausibility structure is a given’ supported by enormous social pressure. The writings of the new atheists here are important to observe because their attitudes are more powerful than their arguments. The disdain and refusal to show any respect to opponents is not actually an effort to refute them logically, but to ostracize them socially and turn their own views into a plausibility structure. They are well on their way.

This creates a problem for the Christian layperson if they hear their teachers or preachers telling them that God could have used EBP to bring about life forms. Evolution as a Grand Theory’ is now being used at the popular level to explain nearly everything about human behavior.

On Derek Kidner’s “model” for Adam and Eve:

[Kidner] proposes that the being who became Adam under the hand of God first evolved but Eve did not. Then they were put into the garden of Eden as representatives of the whole human race. Their creation in God’s image and their fall affected not only their offspring, but all other contemporaries. In this telling, Kidner accounts for both the continuity between animals and humans that scientists see, and the discontinuity that the Bible describes. Only human beings are in God’s image, have fallen into sin, and will be saved by grace.

This approach would explain perennially difficult Biblical questions such as — who were the people that Cain feared would slay him in revenge for the murder of Abel (Gen 4:14)? Who was Cain’s wife, and how could Cain have built a city filled with inhabitants (Gen 4:17)? We might even ask why Genesis 2:20 hints that Adam went on a search to find’ a spouse if there were only animals around? In Kidner’s approach, Adam and Eve were not alone in the world, and that answers all these questions.

And finally, on the state of Eden:

Traditional theology has never believed that humanity and the world in Genesis 2 – 3 was in a glorified, perfect state. Augustine taught that Adam and Eve were posse non peccare (able not to sin) but they fell into the state of non posse non peccare (not able not to sin). In our final state of full salvation, however, we will be non posse peccare (not capable of sinning.) Eden was not the consummated world of the future. Some have pointed out that in the Garden of Eden that there would have had to be some kind of death and decay or fruit would not have been edible.

Confessing Evangelical has done an even more in-depth exegesis of Keller’s essay, which I highly recommend reading.

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