Book Reviews

Book Review: “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?” edited by Keathley, Stump, and Aguirre

Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? is a book that I would have thought nearly impossible when I started reading on issues of science and faith. The book brings together two Christian organizations with opposing viewpoints on origins to have an amiable, informative discussion on their different views. There is so much heat in such discussions that it seems as though sometimes people can’t even begin such a conversation. I’m happy to say that this book is an example of a thoughtful engagement on both sides.

The book is arranged so that on each topic, each side gets several pages to address the questions at hand. Then, the moderator offers an extra question(s) for each side, and a shorter section is given to the commentators. The book is not a debate book; instead, it is a series of questions with the answers given from two different perspectives. This makes it an invaluable reference to compare and contrast these two leading views from major organizations related to science-faith issues.

The topics that are covered start with a general outline of the perspective of each group Biologos is the evolutionary creation perspective, and Reasons to Believe presents the Old-Earth Creationist perspective. Evolutionary creation (often called theistic evolution) is the view that modern evolutionary science and Christianity are compatible and true (yes, there’s much more to it, but this is the bare-bones version). The Old-Earth Creationist perspective, as presented by Reasons to Believe, is a Day-Age look at Genesis (i.e. each day of creation corresponds to a period of creation, over time) that sees science confirming specific teachings in the Bible.

After this general outline, many topics are discussed, including how each group interprets the Bible, which positions are viable regarding Adam and Eve, natural evil, how God interacts in the natural world, the scientific method, evolution, geological evidence and the origin of life, the fossil record and hominids, genetics and common descent, and anthropology. Again, these topics aren’t discussed as debates, which gives each side more time to outline their own position and give a meatier response to the questions posed.

I cannot emphasize enough how important I believe this book is. Not only does it show that organizations with opposed views on important topic can have truly edifying interactions, it also serves as an invaluable reference for learning about both Old Earth and Evolutionary Creation. I highly recommend Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? to my readers.

The Good 

+Superb, concise presentation of the two views
+Well done moderation with staying on topic and pushing for more interesting discussions
+Chock-full of content from both sides of the discussion
+Excellent tone and amiable discussion throughout
+Great group of contributors

The Bad

-Some sections are just too short to hit all the points that need to be hit, even for an overview

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.




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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


12 thoughts on “Book Review: “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?” edited by Keathley, Stump, and Aguirre

  1. Thank you for your generous comments, J. W. We hope the book gets into the hands of many people. -Joe

    Posted by Average Joe | August 16, 2017, 10:03 AM

    Reconciling Christian theology of the Adam and Eve tale (different from the Jewish theological explanation!) with modern science seems a bit of a task. For instance…

    Hadn’t animals been acting both aggressively and cooperatively toward one another for ages before upright primates ever existed? So why would God expect the first upright primate couple to act with far less aggression than all the rest of the animals on earth–and then damn all the children of the first couple to hell when they did? Death, fear, anxiety, quick hormonal fight or flight reactions, including aggressive impulses (as well as cooperative impulses) were all part of the early upright primate genome inherited from its primate cousins. So why damn the first couple to eternal hell? The very evolutionary process that God employed to create the genomes of upright primates ensured a host of problematic behavioral imperfections right from the start.

    Put another way, men and women are ‘sinful’ because of what? Evidence suggests it is because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species. You wonʼt find many shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to reproduce and survive in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, fear, anxiety, starvation, sickness, death and extinction events, long before the “image of God” arrived. What we inherited from our biological ancestors seems to have been the very traits that allowed them to produce more of their kind, traits often involving selfishness, aggression, unbridled curiosity (as well as traits involving cooperation and forgiveness). Consider the “anger reaction,” aggressive outbursts that we all lapse into from time to time. Those are to be expected evolutionarily speaking, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isnʼt much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce, or a fellow primate is coming at us to keep us away from his food, or his mate, or even his harem in case of Pan chimpanzees (though Bonobos are certainly different in not having harems, and having sex freely with other chimps). Is having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response our “sinful” fault; or is it part of the way our brains evolved to function?

    Christian apologists object that such a biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on long evolved biological impulses, ignoring forms of evil made possible by our transcendence—evils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning admits, our “sinful” human behaviors do appear to exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that “there is virtually no known human behavior that we call ‘sin’ that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.” Domningʼs “conclusion” is that animals are “doing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.” Moreover… “Logical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologistsʼ jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.”

    Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

    Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animalʼs lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

    Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name “Adam.” These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends. Does such a view make much sense?

    Having acquired a “soul” that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be “saved,” what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

    Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Maryʼs? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. Thatʼs because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Maryʼs zygote. So letʼs say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Maryʼs chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. Weʼve already gone over that.


    “It is a difficult task fitting evolutionary ideas into the Christian framework, beginning with Paul’s exposition in Romans 5:12 that ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned’… And what about Paul’s thoughts on the direct connection of sin with one man and redemption with another in Romans 5:18, ‘Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.’ Was the trespass that Paul mentions perpetrated by some particularly evil Homo habilus or an especially cunning Homo erectus? The common modern explanation is that Genesis 1-3 is to be interpreted metaphorically. If that is so, why does God require a bloody, horrific, non-metaphorical sacrifice of his Son? This is the difficult task of reconciling evolutionary thought and Christianity… One also has to wonder what it means to live in a ‘fallen’ world where no such fall has occurred [where death, predation, aggression, have always been, long before any species vaguely resembling an ‘Adam’ ever evolved]. So without an historically ‘good’ creation ‘in the beginning,’ and without an historical Adam and Eve or historical fall, the problem of natural evil becomes one of even more stark contrast. The answer to suffering parishoners that we ‘live in a fallen world’ makes less sense if every living thing was cursed with death–and over 90% of every ancient species was cursed with extinction–long before human beings even showed up in this less than Edenic cosmos.”
    — Terry W. Ward in a letter published in Christian Century, April 22, 2008 [with edits]

    “Did a separate group of hominids reach a certain point at which their brains could handle a ‘soul?’ And where was the cutoff point? Can you imagine the heartbreak of knowing your mom and dad aren’t endowed with the image of God? Try this on for size: ‘Grandma and grandpa aren’t going to heaven — not because they sinned, but because they were animals.’”
    — Tim Widowfield, Strange Bedfellows — Evolution and Christianity

    “So long as people believed, as St. Paul himself did, in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years – so long as people thought the stars were satellites of the earth and that animals were there to serve man – there was no difficulty in believing that a single man could have ruined everything, and that another man had saved everything.”
    — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution

    Posted by edwardtbabinski | August 16, 2017, 10:44 PM
    • So far as I can tell, almost every primary point here is an argument from incredulity. Lines like “does such a view make sense?” serve as conclusions.

      I mean, what if I just said “yes”?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 17, 2017, 7:07 AM
      • Funny, your response seems based on calling the kettle black, no matter the obvious questions concerning the very process God used to create humans. If God did all of the above as stated in my comment then that’s about equivalent to a young-earth creationist believing in “apparent age” arguments that include eons of imaginary cosmic history as one looks back into time via deep space telescopes that show events in the cosmos that never actually took place because beyond 6 thousand light years all the light reaching earth is fake history.

        Posted by edwardtbabinski | August 18, 2017, 5:28 PM
      • I’m really not following this at all. What?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | August 19, 2017, 12:10 AM
      • Let’s ask a few related questions, What are “sins?” Where do sins exist apart from being past acts? As humans we experience memories of being hurt, but don’t experience “sins” as distinct entities. Are “sins” the “bad” memories of God? Do such memories “soil” God’s mind? And he has to dispose of them? And He can’t forget/forgive them without blood being shed? What exactly is the connection between shedding blood and God’s memories no longer being a bother to him or us? I don’t get how these things connect. When I forgive someone I simply forgive them, no need to shed blood. Nor can God be harmed by mere humans, but he requires blood being shed before He can truly forgive anyone anything? Is the death of God’s son a form of forgetfulness, a means of dissolving such memories? How so, since killing God’s son has got to be among the numero uno of “sins” humans could commit?

        Posted by edwardtbabinski | August 18, 2017, 5:40 PM
  3. To explain what you “don’t follow” you’ll first have to explain the “fall” and “sin” in light of modern science. At least take a crack at it, so that you and I can then discuss where the cracks being to appear. Humans share so many traits with our ancestors that there is no need to introduce concepts like sin or some ideal human couple or group who fell from some imputed state of neutrality or sinlessness, and instead admit humans are partially tame animals with many of the same aggressive and cohesive/friendly instincts and desires as other mammals with large complex nervous systems (elephants, dolphins, great apes, notably bonobos). In other words, Christian theology tries to play off things we already know plenty about via ethnology, cognitive science, human behavioral/physiological and evolutionary studies. And any God who created the world via evolutionary means and methods over billions of years of birth and death, suffering and joy, evolution and extinction, seems to have left things to sort themselves out over those eons. So where and how is one supposed to understand “sin” and a “fall?”

    The details and examples in my longer comment seemed sufficient. However, I also recognize that two people reading the same material often absorb parts of it differently. So it takes time for the brain-mind to develop new connections between examples and arguments that challenge old well worn brain-mind connections and arguments. That also helps explain how and why people reading the same books, including so-called holy books, arrive at different understandings. And it helps explain how and why Christianity continued to splinter over time into so many branches like a Darwinian tree of life. Reminds me of the way life is a remix. Genes continually remix via sex and/or randomly inserted retroviral DNA, even some bacterial DNA has wound up inside the human genome. Life is always mixing. Even stories and tales from science fiction/fantasy and religion are being mixed and remixed. The cosmos itself was mixing energy-matter for eons before the first replicating molecules came about, and look at the diversity today! Yet viruses remain the most numerous replicators on this planet by far, with magnitudes greater numbers of viruses in each drop of sea water than bacteria or other types of cells. In fact it was recently learned that some viruses reproduce by invading and manipulating mega-sized viruses.

    My point being that the cosmos appears in equilibrium at best with life/death, evolution/extinction, aggression/empathy, and that there does not appear to have ever been an ideal moment when any organism was completely without suffering/death. So Christian theology is an attempt to claim that it alone encompasses the ultimate reality with its talk of “sin” and/or “original sin,” despite “appearances” to the contrary.

    Posted by edwardtbabinski | August 19, 2017, 11:15 AM
  4. Thanks for reviewing this. It is a subject that often produces more heat than light.

    Posted by pastorstevebedard | September 2, 2017, 7:05 PM


  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?” edited by Keathley, Stump, and Aguirre — J.W. Wartick -“Always Have a Reason” | Talmidimblogging - August 14, 2017

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