Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/04/2010 by James Anderson.
Not Recommended. An irenic but ultimately unsatisfying attempt to reconcile evangelical theology with evolutionary theory.
Denis Lamoureux is a significant contributor to the longstanding debate over evolution in evangelical circles. As the holder of three doctoral degrees (dentistry, theology, and biology) he is especially well qualified to speak to it. Over the last 20 years, as he has wrestled with the origins issue, he has held to just about every position on the spectrum, from atheistic Darwinism (before his conversion) to young-earth creationism (after his conversion) to progressive old-earth creationism to his current position of "evolutionary creationism".
As the title of his book indicates, his aim in I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution is to show that evolutionary creationism is not just a coherent and defensible view, but ultimately the only tenable position for Christians who are committed to the "Two Divine Books": the Book of God’s Words (the Bible) and the Book of God’s Works (the natural world).
Chapter 1 lays some foundations by defining key terms. Lamoureux claims to accept both creation and evolution, thus he defines these terms in such a way as to avoid any contradiction between them. Crucially for Lamoureux, the claim that God created does not commit us to any particular view about how God created; hence belief in creation is compatible with belief in evolution, at least in principle. Another important term defined here is scientific concordism, the view that the scientific statements of the Bible correspond to the way the physical world really is. One of the burdens of the book is to persuade the reader that scientific concordism is not merely mistaken but unbiblical.
Chapter 2 surveys the spectrum of positions on the question of origins. Lamoureux outlines five basic categories of origins: (1) young earth creationism; (2) progressive creation; (3) evolutionary creation; (4) deistic evolution, and (5) dysteleological (i.e., atheistic) evolution. A helpful table lays out the differences between the five positions on key issues such as the role of God, the age of the universe, the nature of the Bible, scientific concordism, and the origin of humans.
Chapter 3 launches Lamoureux's case against scientific concordism, a position he once "fiercely defended". His leading claim is that the Bible itself rejects scientific concordism, thus giving the impression that his main concern is for us to submit ourselves to God's Word; in reality his argument is that the Bible makes numerous scientific assumptions and statements that we now know to be false (e.g., it represents the universe as consisting of three vertically-arranged tiers). Nevertheless, this does not make God a liar, Lamoureux insists. God merely accommodated his revelation to the "ancient science" of the biblical authors.
The case against scientific concordism continues in chapter 4, where Lamoureux contends that the pattern of fossils in the geological record contradicts the historical events described in Genesis. To his credit Lamoureux avoids weasel words and states his conclusions directly and unequivocally: "That’s right, the events in Gen 3 did not happen as stated. There never was a cosmic fall." Such clarity is commendable, but his suggestion that this doesn’t amount to an abandonment of biblical inerrancy stretches credibility to breaking point.
Chapter 5 sets out what Lamoureux takes to be compelling scientific evidence for an old earth and for the evolutionary origins of life. Readers familiar with the scientific debates over these issues will find nothing new here. It's rather surprising, however, that Lamoureux rests his case for evolution almost entirely on the existence of transitional fossils, given that many apologists for evolution concede that the fossil record, with its conspicuous gaps, presents not so much a powerful argument for Darwinism as an awkward problem to be explained.
In chapter 6 Lamoureux addresses the thorny issue of human evolution. Are we biologically descended from lower life forms—ultimately, from simple single-celled organisms? Did human death precede the fall of Adam? Was there an Adamic fall at all? As he well realizes, it's here that Lamoureux faces his greatest challenges in trying to reconcile biblical theology with evolutionary science. He opens by presenting what he takes to be compelling scientific evidence for human evolution. Space forbids even a summary evaluation of his arguments, but I will say this: I was struck by how flimsy a case it was.
Lamoureux then proceeds to explore the theological implications of his scientific conclusions about human evolution. He identifies three different approaches to reconciling these conclusions with the biblical teaching that we are made in the image of God and fallen in sin. Two of these approaches he rejects as "concordist models" (concordism being a cardinal sin in Lamoureux's eyes). The third approach—that of evolutionary creationism—entails that Adam and Eve never existed as historical individuals. Lamoureux concedes that both Jesus and Paul believed otherwise, but maintains that this doesn't threaten the "Message of Faith" that God has communicated through the Bible. We just need to winnow the theological wheat from the scientific chaff.
The final chapter reiterates Lamoureux's contention that accepting evolutionary theory needn't threaten any of the "foundational beliefs of Christianity" and addresses the most common questions Lamoureux faces whenever he presents his case for evolutionary creationism. Why did God create through evolution? Why did he accommodate the Bible to ancient science? What about original sin? What about suffering and death in the evolutionary process? How do the dinosaurs fit in to the Bible?
Based on the summary I've given, I expect most readers of this review will already have a fair idea as to whether they would find Lamoureux's approach to the creation-evolution debate theologically tolerable and scientifically persuasive. This is not the place for a full critique of his evolutionary creationism, but let me briefly indicate why I don't find his arguments compelling.
In the first place, I consider Lamoureux's approach to interpreting Scripture to be highly problematic; in short, he treats the deliverances of science as more authoritative and less prone to factual error than the Bible (at least when it comes to the natural world). Yet not only is this at odds with how Christians have historically viewed the Bible, it is also at odds with the Bible's own doctrine of Scripture, which places no such qualifications on its reliability in factual matters. Furthermore, if we grant that the Bible is accommodated to ancient science (to the point where it factually errs) why shouldn't we grant that it is similarly accommodated to ancient morality—or even to ancient theology? Once we play the accommodation card in the way Lamoureux does, we inevitably gut the Bible of its authority and its power to speak counter-culturally.
Lamoureux's scientific arguments could be criticized at multiple points, but all I will note here is that he doesn't even mention, let alone address, some of the many significant scientific difficulties faced by the theory that all living organisms have gradually evolved from rudimentary life-forms by purely natural processes. The uninformed reader will almost certainly be misled into thinking that the scientific case for evolution is beyond question. Ironically, Lamoureux's case would have seemed more credible had he acknowledged at least some of the counterevidence.
Finally, I suspect many evangelical readers will be unconvinced by Lamoureux's plea that his position preserves all the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. His rejection of the doctrine of original sin, which follows of necessity from his rejection of the historical Adam and Eve, is particularly problematic. If Adam never existed then obviously no human being could have inherited a sinful nature from him. It's remarkable that Lamoureux makes no reference to Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 in his discussion of original sin, and his treatments elsewhere in the book require him to hold these texts at arm's length.
I have to conclude that despite its irenic approach and the undoubted expertise of its author, this book fails in its goal of reconciling biblical Christianity with modern evolutionary science. Nevertheless, it is very useful in this respect: it makes clear what price has to be paid in order to make peace with evolution, even if one takes a relatively conservative approach. The first casualties are the doctrines of biblical authority, clarity, and inerrancy, closely followed by the doctrine of original sin; and once those are sacrificed it's inevitable that more will follow, for no doctrine is an island. The doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone, to cite two examples, are intimately connected to the nature of the fall and its consequences.
The stakes are high. These are gospel issues. Lamoureux may well be correct about what it takes to accept evolution, as he defines it; but if he is, then precisely because I love Jesus, I cannot accept evolution. Fortunately, his scientific arguments put me under little pressure to do so.