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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 4: Theistic Evolution and the Old Testament

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the chapter on the Old Testament.

The Old Testament and Theistic Evolution

John D. Currid’s chapter is entitled “Theistic Evolution is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament.” Such a title shows that Currid’s purpose is not just to say that other science-faith positions are easier to align with the Bible, but rather that TE is explicitly excluded because it is directly incompatible with the Old Testament. There is no way Currid could fairly be expected to refute every possible way TE could be constructed, but it is clear that his task is to show that the major ways that TEs read the Old Testament on creation are not just mistaken but actually in some way are incompatible with the texts themselves. To his credit, that is what he attempts to do in this chapter.

After a brief story about an early controversy over TE and some comments on scholars who continue to embrace TE, Currid dives into his examination of some of the main TE ways to read the Old Testament. First, he examines the work of John Walton. I have read and reviewed much of Walton’s work, including several posts here (scroll down to browse). Walton is an expert on the Ancient Near East and much of his work is tied up into his thesis that we must take this ANE context into account as we read the biblical text. Currid’s strategy for approaching Walton’s interpretation is to claim that the ANE documents are not solely interested in functions but rather do teach about the material origins of the cosmos (844). To back up this claim, Currid surveys a number of texts from the ANE and says that they are clearly focusing on the physical origins of the universe. He also argues that Genesis 1-3 seems to be clearly focused on physical origin as well (850ff).

Currid’s analysis here is mistaken, however. For one thing, he himself admits that in Genesis 1:2 and thereafter “the universe and, in particular, the earth is pictured in the process of creation” (850). Because Currid states plainly that this Genesis account is about “putting things in their right places,” this seems to contradict his claim that the focus of Genesis 1-3 is primarily about physical origins or that it ought to at least in part be taken as such. His own analysis of the text effectively grants Walton’s point, that physical creation is here being ordered by function. Indeed, it is telling that Currid does not look more deeply at Walton’s own points regarding individual days of creation. As Walton argues, if we take these as physical creation events we find that they contradict our own observations of the material world. For example, there is no solid expanse in the sky, as the text speaks of on the second day of creation. Yet Currid’s own look at the days in context of Walton’s view (851) is merely to list individual things he believes were physically created on each day, completely missing Walton’s own explicitly stated point about why those verses cannot be about physical creation. It seems that here Currid has failed to demonstrate that TE is directly incompatible with the Old Testament.

Next, Currid turns his analysis to those who view Genesis 1-3 as myth “in the sense of a legendary story without determinable basis in fact or history” (851ff). This view sees the creation account(s) not as scientific but rather as a shared basis for telling stories about the purpose of creation–a mythic meaning for those stories. Currid begins his critique of this position by asking “Why does Genesis 1-3 contain so many elements that appear to be literal history if in fact it was borrowed from an ancient Near Eastern myth?” (852). But of course that is exactly what is at question on this view! That is, he can’t simply assert that Genesis 1-3 is literal history and then claim that because it “appear[s] to be literal history” it can’t be mythic. That’s just begging the question. To his credit he goes on to claim that the author of Genesis was practicing demythologization to turn the ANE mythic tale into “monotheistic, non-mythic orthodoxy” (853). To support this, he notes places where he believes there is anti-mythic polemic in the creation account(s). While I think it true that there is certainly some polemic here, one thing that Currid failed to consider is whether the polemic is anti-mythic in the sense he means–that is, is it against legendary stories that don’t have a determinable basis in fact or history–or is the polemic rather against polytheistic paganism of the groups surrounding Israel? That is, could the story not be both mythic and polemical? I think it certainly could be, and the bare possibility of this being its purpose undermines the claim that the Old Testament is incompatible with this specific view of Theistic Evolution.

The third position Currid considers is that the account is theological or figurative rather than a literal creation account. This reading is of course tied up in the previous two, to the point that it shows how diverse TE and indeed non-TE readings of Genesis 1-3 are. Nevertheless, Currid presses on and argues that “Genesis 1-3 bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative” (860). Yet Currid does not, at any point, demonstrate whatever he defines as “Hebrew historical narrative” is some kind of literal, objective history. As someone who has studied historiography, I find myself quite skeptical of this position and wonder what Currid’s view of “history” is. Nevertheless, if Currid is right, this still doesn’t demonstrate a complete incompatibility between TE and Genesis 1-3. After all, one could perhaps read it historically but take its objective meaning as different from whatever Currid believes.

The chapter ends on some analysis of etiological readings of Genesis 1-3. These are readings that see the Old Testament as written in response to various events or observations about the world around the authors. As I admittedly have little experience of or reading in etiology regarding the accounts here, I’ll leave Currid’s analysis as it stands.

Overall, it should be clear that Currid fails to establish his central thesis: that TE is incompatible with the Old Testament. Indeed, both Walton’s theory and the mythic theory come out largely unscathed from his rebuttal. Walton’s thesis is effectively granted by Currid’s own analysis. Regarding the mythic thesis, Currid simply offers an alternative explanation rather than a thorough rebuttal. Thus far, at least, TE seems theologically sound.

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.


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