Lutheran Creation Doctrine: Evolutionary Creationism

This week I am continuing my study of what my family’s denomination of Lutheranism, the LCMS, believes in regards to creation and origins. I began this series after my brother-in-law read this blog post where I responded to an article about creationism written by the president of the LCMS, and my brother-in-law then suggested I read what the Concordia Theology blog states on the matter. This brings me to today, when I read Concordia Theology’s fourth post in their creationism series, called “A Travel Guide to the Evangelical Creation Debates: What is Evolutionary Creationism?” by Charles Arand. In the past, I’ve also covered their posts on Old Earth Creationism and Young Earth Creationism.

Evolutionary Creationism, as the name suggests, is the camp of creationism in which the Earth is in fact 4.6 billion years old, and biological evolution is in fact true, but so is the biblical story of creation in Genesis… in some ways. Of the three options given so far for Lutheran creationism (Old Earth, Young Earth, and Evolutionary), I personally find Evolutionary Creationism to be closest to the truth, only for the fact that it supports the truth of evolution. That being said, EC doesn’t fit quite that well with the biblical creation story, but its proponents hope to one day figure it out. In my opinion, there isn’t really a way to make them fit, but I always choose the truth that has been found using scientific evidence and logic over ancient, uninformed holy texts any day.

Before getting into the post, Arand claims that the EC movement in Christianity was “sparked in large degree not by geological science but by the science of genetics.” I don’t know how true this really is, as there is so much awesome geological evidence for evolution, but for this post’s purpose, I didn’t see any point in trying to argue about why these people believe in evolution so long as they do.

In his definition of Evolutionary Creationists, Arand specifies, “Evangelicals who hold to evolution refer to themselves as ‘Evolutionary Creationists’ (EC) rather than theistic evolutionists as the latter term does not imply a Christian commitment,” which is later clarified by Deborah Haarsma: “Evolutionary Creationists put the emphasis on ‘God’s creation as the noun, with evolution as the modifier.'”

I found this clarification quite curious, because Arand spends essentially the rest of the post using Francis Collins’ BioLogos doctrine as the mascot for Evolutionary Creationists, saying “My sense is that BioLogos is the leading and most influential voice for Evolutionary Creationism.” It’s not a huge deal, but I remember explicitly when I read Collins’ The Language of God that BioLogos is his fancier, but interchangeable, term for theistic evolution. The way that he describes it in the book, theistic evolution sounds like it could also apply it to deism, but on the BioLogos website, it does come off much more explicitly Christian.

Contrasting with Old Earth and Young Earth Creationism, Evolutionary Creationism has less of an emphasis on the bible being absolutely inerrant, but rather it focuses on it being inspired and authoritative. Like the other two camps, ECs understand creation using the “two books” of Scripture and Nature, claiming that they are both true, which means that they can’t contradict. I believe this type of statement to be a fallacy, because if two statements explicitly contradict each other (as these do) then one of them must be false. Any presupposing otherwise is biased and will skew your results.

Knowing that evolution is true, ECs spend their time and energy trying to fit the Genesis narrative into what they know to be true about nature. This has sparked numerous debates in the BioLogos community about whether Adam and Eve were historical, or what “historical” could possibly be stretched to mean, or how this would affect the central Christian doctrine of original sin.

The greatest debate that I think comes between evolutionary creationists and a cohesive worldview (even if that worldview is still false) is that evolution cannot be reconciled with Genesis. ECs Deborah and Loren Haarsma lay out in their book Origins five possible explanations of how the Adam and Eve story could fit with evolution and an old earth:

  • Recent ancestors – specially created about 10,000 years ago
  • Recent representatives – God created humans around 150,000 years ago but then selected a pair of them about 10,000 years ago to represent all of humanity
  • Ancient ancestors – a pair of evolved hominids whom God selected and miraculously modified into the first Homo sapiens about 150,000 years ago
  • Ancient representatives – God revealed himself to a large group of early humans around 150,000 years ago, and Adam and Eve are symbolic of this group
  • Merely symbolic – characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, humanity, and the origin of Israel

The post goes on for a long while on how an evolutionary corruption of Genesis might affect original sin, but it all began to mush together after a while. After Arand outlined what felt like dozens of arguments within the camp of Evolutionary Creationism, he gave a quote from a man named James K. A. Smith: “Our options are not either ahistorical ‘theological’ claims or literalist ‘historical’ claims. We shouldn’t confuse or reduce ‘historical’ to journalistic paradigms or blow-by-blow chronology. We need to develop more nuanced accounts of history in order to do justice to the theological. There is much work to be done on this front.”

To me, this sounds like, “Our view of history is way more convoluted than we thought, and we are going to have to work way harder to try to reconcile our totally contradictory views of Genesis and evolution.” It sounds like to me that Arand, the LCMS author of the blog post, knows that these two ideas don’t really fit together.

When I started this series, I wanted to find out for real what view the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod takes on creationism, evolution, and origins. The three posts (plus the introduction) that I’ve read so far were written so that a Lutheran layperson could become informed and acquainted with their options on what to believe in this regard—and I appreciate what the author is doing here, I really do. I haven’t ever seen a whole lot of honesty or attempt at informed belief in the Lutheran church, so it is great that Charles Arand has taken it upon himself to try to make it so that each Lutheran can decide for him or herself.

But Arand, a mere mortal, wasn’t entirely able to avoid bias in his posts outlining the types of creationism. I picked up on this in the post on Young Earth Creationism, which I could tell Arand was particularly fond of. But it wasn’t until the end of this Evolutionary Creationism post that I was certain what Arand himself actually believes. Only the post on evolution, and not either of the anti-evolution posts on the Concordia Theology blog, ended with the following note (with just as much emphasis on the original as you see here):

“Note: This post is meant to acquaint the reader with Evolutionary Creationism as a theological-scientific synthesis found among many American Evangelicals to reconcile their reading of the Bible with their reading of modern science. It is not an endorsement of it by myself or by the Concordia Seminary faculty.”

And after all this time, and all this work, that right there really told me all that I needed to know. I believe that the great majority of LCMS Lutherans have been all along, and will continue to be, Young Earth Creationists. Thus, my original hypothesis was correct.

Note: This series is meant to compare different ideas of what Lutherans believe about creation. Even though I keep talking about it and about theology, I’m still an atheist. I just think it’s interesting. Also, evolution is a fact and Genesis is a myth. That’s all, and have a great day.

Featured image taken from https://biologos.org/

11 Replies to “Lutheran Creation Doctrine: Evolutionary Creationism”

  1. I’ll mention peacefulscience.org as offering an alternative to BioLogos. And I think the sites founder, Joshua Swamidass, is LCMS.

    Back in my days as a Christian, I never saw a conflict between Christianity and evolution. But perhaps that’s mostly because I took an allegorical view of the Adam and Eve story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some of my dearest friends are Missouri Synod Lutherans, and I have never been able to figure out how they feel about evolution/creationism (in no small part because I don’t care – what I care about is that they are intelligent, decent people in every other sense). The most creationist thing I ever heard from them was when one of them shared an article by an evangelical woman shortly after Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation, arguing on the basis of the Genesis quote “Male and female He created them” that gender theory is false (I specifically remember the quote “There you have it: God is perfect and does not make mistakes. So how could God make the mistake of putting a female soul in a man’s body?” – even aside from the fact that gender theory has nothing to say about souls, I don’t how “God does not make mistakes” is to be inferred from the statement “Male and female He created them [Adam and Eve specifically]”). I have my own quibbles with gender theory, to be honest, but Genesis has nothing to do with it – anybody who has ever tried to make objective sense out of that branch of modern feminism might know what I mean when I say it is much like trying to interpret the Bible!

    On a side note, I agree that it is fascinating to listen to religious people attempting to reconcile their revelatory doctrines with science. I don’t necessarily think it is as much of a futile or contradictory notion as you do, because I spent a long time attempting to do so, and my inability to do so had relatively little to do with my becoming an atheist, but that’s another story. I will never forget the conversation I had with my step-grandfather back in my early college days when I was still a struggling Catholic and had just taken a biological anthropology class. My grandfather, apparently unaware that the Catholic Church does not deny evolution and that Catholic schools, at least in the developed world, do not teach Genesis as literal truth, inquired whether my professor had made any mention of “what the Church teaches” to balance out the science. Of course, I think his misconception might have had as much to do with FOX News as anything else – it certainly seemed to have about the same influence over his worldview.

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  3. Great one, yet again. What ever that time is called between believer and convinced atheist, my POV of EC was compartmentally part of that time for me. Dropping the C was easy (of course) when the G fell off of it all. I find it difficult to care what hair-splitting details various sects of Lutheranism wrestle with, but you post it well by applying you point of view. If there is no god, then there is no who. Only how. Religion, History, Science, pick two.

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  4. Evolutionary creationism is an example of what what faith does to reason. Every scientific discipline has supplanted bible teaching—except how it all began. When the answer comes (and they are coming) then what for religion? What will be the catchy compromise that allows people to stay with the delusion, which is what they seem to want?

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      1. I like this part after he soundly discredits the Adam story If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work “covenantally’—falls apart. You can’t say that Paul was a ‘man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.”

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  5. Having been a staunch creationist for much of my life, I have come to the conclusion that it is a great mystery how it all began. The one thing I hold to is that God is the originator of it all! He is the source of all life! This holds me in all of my questioning and doubting!!

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