In late 1992 I was just beginning my writing “career.” I was still living at home with my parents and our family didn’t yet have a computer, so whatever I was writing was on an old electric typewriter. One of the first articles that I had published was entitled “The Creation Question.” It was published in the January 1993 issue of the Canadian Reformed young people’s magazine In Holy Array. In that article I stated, “Theistic evolution is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It attempts to make a compromise between scriptural truth and so-called scientific fact.” I noted the situation in Grand Rapids at the time: “Professors at Calvin College subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity as well as the Ecumenical Creeds, but yet they continue to teach and promote theistic evolution.” One of those professors, Howard J. Van Till, was quoted as saying, “Creation and evolution are not contradictory…” I never would have guessed that in less than 20 years we would be battling theistic evolution in the Canadian Reformed churches. If you had said 40 or 50 years I might have believed you. But less than 20?
The battle is over whether there should be room for theistic evolution. Those who say that there should be are what I have termed “latitudinarians.” That means that they are agitating for latitude and toleration for these views, even if, as they say, they don’t personally hold to them themselves. It’s sort of like the “pro-choice” movement. “Personally, we might never choose abortion for ourselves, but we believe that people should be free to choose and hold whatever position they wish. But abortion should be an option.” Just insert “theistic evolution” wherever you read “abortion” and that’s what we’re hearing. [UPDATE: to be clear, I’m not saying that those trying to make room for theistic evolution in my context are also loose on abortion. Rather, my point is that the rhetorical strategy is similar. However, there have been other contexts where the issues fall together.] Interestingly, the United Reformed Churches have unequivocally stated (in 2001) that there is no room for theistic evolution in their church federation. In other words, they’re not “pro-choice” when it comes to this issue. We should follow their lead.
The latitudinarians tell us that the real enemy is not evolution, but evolutionism. Scientifically and philosophically naive theologians and ministers constantly confuse these two, apparently. What the latitudinarians are calling “evolutionism” is normally known as naturalism or materialism. It is an unbelieving worldview which includes the theory of evolution as an explanation of origins. Of course, we stand against naturalism/materialism. We would expect all Reformed confessors to do that. But our beef is also with the theory of evolution. We need to stand against naturalism/materialism AND the theory of evolution. Don’t let this evolution/evolutionism talk fool you. It’s a false dilemma that confuses the issue. Both are unbiblical. There should be room for neither in our Reformed churches.
Finally, in the latest issue of Clarion there’s a letter to the editor chiding ministers and theology professors for giving guidance on scientific questions for which they have no qualifications to answer. We’re hypocritical for challenging science on some issues, while making use of scientific advances and insights in our daily life. When we need to get financial advice, we go to accountants and financial advisors. When we need scientific insights, we should go to the scientists. The logic sounds impeccable. However, there is a fallacy. It’s called equivocation. Equivocation is changing the meaning of a word or a term in the course of an argument. In this instance, the term equivocated is “science.” In one instance, science refers to operational science. In operational science, observation and experimentation lead to certain advances in knowledge and technology. In another instance in this argument, science refers to origins or historical science. This refers to what happened in the distant past, attempting to piece together the evidence to explain what we observe. The Word of God directly and authoritatively addresses the question of origins. Ministers and theology professors are trained to interpret, explain and apply the Word of God. Thus they are qualified to address the question of origins. That is a valid and sound argument.