Theistic Evolution and Cultism Are Not Our Only Options: On Bruce Waltke’s Resignation and Charles Honey’s “Adamant on Adam” (CT, 5/25/2010)
Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D
President, Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute

Recently, Charles Honey drew our attention to continuing perceptions of friction between science and the biblical record. Honey recounted Bruce Waltke’s resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in April of this year over (in part) a BioLogos video, in which Dr. Waltke mused that “if the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult…some odd group that is not really interacting with the world.” Of course, we must be cautious in how we handle a brief comment, and we should grant each other a charitable consideration – Dr. Waltke is certainly deserving of that. Still, his comments here reflect, as Charles Honey points out, and RTS interim president Michael Milton acknowledges, Dr. Waltke’s “mainline evolutionary” views.

Dr. Waltke’s diagnosis seems to leave Christians with only two options: (1) acquiesce to “the data,” or (2) accept that we are heading down a path of cultism. One relevant definition of cult is “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious.” (Merriam-Webster) If Dr. Waltke intends this meaning or something similar, then one who rejects “the data” might be regarded as unorthodox. If this is Dr. Waltke’s meaning, then it seems that the data “overwhelmingly” favoring evolution provides a hermeneutic grid through which we should understand Scripture. Consequently, if we do not assent to “the data,” then our interpretive tools are supposedly flawed and lead us to abandon orthodoxy.

While I commend Dr. Waltke for his courage in standing firm in his convictions despite the reality that his views would not be well received by a significant many of his interlocutors, I can’t help but think that we do, in fact, have another alternative besides the two I infer from Dr. Waltke’s comments. The data to which Dr. Waltke refers must itself be interpreted, and must be done so according to a presupposed method. If there is any battleground between science and the biblical record it is in the determining of first principles and the method for making such determinations.

Consider for example, the lack of missing links in the fossil record. Creationists interpret this data as evidence against macroevolution, yet evolutionists attribute this notable deficiency to punctuated equilibrium (the idea that species remain static for long periods of time and then transform rapidly). Some evolutionists argue that there are, in fact, a number of transitional fossils, while creationists argue that the alleged samples simply represent varieties within species. Certain complex mechanisms (the eye, for example) are perceived by creationists to be irreducibly complex, and stand as witnesses against macroevolution, while evolutionists argue that during all stages of development such mechanisms were of benefit to the developing mechanism and are indeed consistent with evolutionary process. In short, both groups are arguing from their first principles, and interpreting the data in light of said principles. The question, then, is not one of data, but one of first principles.

We would be foolish to ignore data, however, we can be equally as foolish if we ignore the importance of first principles in determining how we should interpret the data. This reality points to the third option we must consider. While Dr. Waltke suggests we must acknowledge that the data favors evolution or be left in the dust of progress, we may alternatively acknowledge and examine the data in light of Biblical first principles. To Dr. Waltke’s credit, he has brought these issues to the forefront, and we should avail ourselves of the opportunity to examine our presuppositions and first principles, align them properly with Biblical assertions of reality, and then apply them to the data with Dr. Waltke’s kind of courage – being unafraid of what we might find. (I, for one, am confident that the Bible will continue to stand inerrant.)

It has been said that guns don’t kill people – people kill people. Perhaps it can also be said that data doesn’t advance an evolutionary worldview – people who interpret the data advance an evolutionary worldview. In this case, I wonder if Dr. Waltke isn’t focusing too much on the gun, when in addition, we might need to be a bit more attentive to the finger on the trigger.