Theistic Evolution: Deism Revisited? -- By: Michael A. Harbin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:4 (Dec 1997)
Article: Theistic Evolution: Deism Revisited?
Author: Michael A. Harbin


Theistic Evolution: Deism Revisited?

Michael A. Harbin*

* Michael Harbin is assistant professor of Biblical studies at Taylor University, 500 West Reade Avenue, Upland, IN 46989–1001.

The current creation-evolution debate is much more complex than a mere religion-science issue, although it is often simplified into an either-or conflict between right-wing Christian fundamentalists and science. 1 This simplifi-cation probably occurs because the classic evolutionist position is both naturalistic and atheistic. It is naturalistic because it argues that the entire universe is a product of natural processes that are currently being observed through science and that may be extrapolated back for an extremely long period of time. It is atheistic because a universe of natural causes seems to lead logically into a position that there is no God. The antithesis of this position is creationism, normally formulated in terms of a literal understanding of the first two chapters of Genesis and usually associated with what is called a young earth.

While often characterized as a religion-science debate, both sides claim to be based on scientific data. 2 Both sides are also often characterized as religious. 3 Moreover many people who hold to an evolutionary model also claim to hold to the traditional beliefs of Christianity.

Phillip Johnson argues that the basic struggle is really between two worldview paradigms: “Is God the true creator of everything that exists, or is God a product of the human imagination, real only in the minds of those who believe?” 4 According to Johnson the basic issue is not the question of the data but how the data are interpreted—whether one views the data through a theistic grid or through a naturalistic grid.

The question that arises immediately is whether this polarization is correct. Are these the only alternatives? Could not one view the data from a theistic grid and yet accept the evolutionary hypothesis? Ever since Darwin published his watershed book a number of scholars have indeed proposed such a third alternative, arguing that evolution is the physical process that God initiated and sustained to create the universe. 5 This mediating position has been termed “theistic evolution.”

Theistic evolution, however, has not proven to be the mediating position once hoped for. 6 On the one hand, many naturalistic s...

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