A Flawed Mirror: A Response to the Book “Theistic Evolution”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/deborah-haarsma-the-presidents-notebook/a-flawed-mirror-a-response-to-the-book-theistic-evolution

Enjoyed the review/response. It is always helpful to clarify misconceptions and misrepresentations to further constructive dialogue.

I’ve been waiting for a response to this for some time.


What a shame (or is it to be expected?) that the Young Earth Creationists and/or Intelligent Design supporters, could invest so much time and effort into a massive book in response to BioLogos, and still find it impossible to define the stated mission of the organization:

So we were disheartened to see the definition of theistic evolution used in this book:
“God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes (Grudem, 67).”

What’s the point of bothering to write the book? What is ironic is that they could have used a much more accurate definition… and most readers wouldn’t have even realized the difference!

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I beg to differ. Good example is the term “evolutionary creationist.” Many of the people represented in this book would not be able to use this term to define us, because it would concede that “creationist” can include people like us, and that would be a paradigm shift for them. Many readers of the book would definitely notice if Wayne Grudem called us “creationists.”


Thanks Dr. Haarsma. Aside from one matter, I think this article is fantastic, and I am impressed with the posture of humility it assumes and for the clarity that it brings to this conversation. I’m glad to see concern with making sure that our definition for a view corresponds to the what the person holding that view actually believes.

I’m concerned about this sentence:
“Regarding the biological origin of Adam and Eve, it is true that evolutionary creationists cannot affirm the traditional de novo view of human origins (in which God miraculously creates the first pair roughly 10,000 years ago, with this pair as the sole genetic progenitors of all humans today), because there is abundant evidence in God’s creation that the early humans were a population of at least several thousand individuals roughly 200,000 years ago.”

When I read that sentence, I was surprised, frustrated, and just deeply disappointed, because it seemed initially to me to be saying that the “de novo” view necessarily includes an affirmation that Adam and Eve were the “sole genetic progenitors.” Wouldn’t you agree that it is entirely possible for someone to believe in the “de novo” creation of Adam and Even without believing that they are the “sole genetic progenitors”, that God could have created them specially (just as Jesus’ virgin birth was special) and their children could have intermarried with other hominids who had evolved in accord with evolutionary science? In fact, this is the view I currently find most convincing. In referring to the “traditional de novo view”, were you distinguishing it from other non traditional “de novo” views? I can see now that perhaps that is what was meant, although I didn’t see that at first and I don’t think it is clear.

Ultimately, it’s not the terms here that are important to me, but rather the concepts behind them. Although we are dealing with a subtle distinction, I’ve become convinced that the failure to make this distinction clear over the years may have been the source of a fairly profound amount of unnecessary disagreement. I myself suffered much cognitive dissonance in trying to reconcile population genetics with the claims of Romans 5, and the solution came in realizing that I could affirm that affirm Adam and Eve as the sole Imago Dei progenitors without having to affirm that they were the sole genetic progenitors. Perhaps you have found other ways of reconciling these things, but I haven’t found any others that were satisfying, and I suspect many others are in the same boat as me.

I want to highlight that I am not alone in wishing that Biologos would have more clarity on the “de novo”/”sole genetic progenitor” distinction. I believe it was this issue that Josh Swamidass was addressing in his defense of Tim Keller after Biologos’ interaction with a Gospel Coalition video last fall In Defense of Tim Keller I was hopeful that the conversation then marked a turning point. I’m still hopeful, that we can eventually find a way to make this distinction more clear.

I hate to focus so much on a single sentence. Thanks again for this article as a whole. I very much appreciate it and I hope it will be the catalyst for more charitable discussion around evolutionary creation.


Hi John,

Thanks for your note, and I’m glad you found the article helpful overall.

Yes, I was describing the “traditional de novo view” in a way to distinguish it from other de novo views, and the key word there is “genetic.” I was describing the view that many Christians hold, that I grew up with, and that Wayne Grudem clearly holds (the inverse of his “twelve theistic evolution beliefs that conflict with the creation account”), in which Adam and Eve were not only created de novo from dust and rib, but recently, and as the sole genetic progenitors of all humans (i.e. no other human-like creatures for their descendants to interbreed with).

As our history expert Ted Davis mentioned to me in a recent email, common ancestry and separate de novo creation have nearly always been seen as contradictory ideas. So, this idea is new to all of us; we’re getting up to speed on the picture of a de novo Adam and Eve having descendants interbreed with other human-like creatures. Since it is so new, I wasn’t ready to highlight it in the response to the Moreland et al book, and merely used “genetic” to be specific about what is ruled out by scientific evidence. Josh has done important work on recent universal genealogical ancestors that we’ve affirmed as good science and inside the BioLogos “tent”, with the peer-reviewed publication only last month at Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith; the de novo arguments are even newer.

Note that for many years, BioLogos has discussed and affirmed other ways to incorporate a historical Adam (and Romans 5) with common ancestry and the genetic evidence, check out our Common Question and the links therein. And we are completely committed to humans as made in God’s image (our theme in May will be on this very topic).

Deb Haarsma


Very good, thanks Dr. Haarsma!

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@DeborahHaarsma thank you so much for this irenic and helpful response to @John_Rood. @BradKramer thank you for liking his post.

I am hopeful it marks a real turning point in the conversation. I want to affirm and endorse some of things most important things said here.

@DeborahHaarsma, referencing @TedDavis here, is absolutely correct. It has always been thought that common descent is in conflict with de novo creation. The work at Peaceful Science is breaking new ground here. It is not just BioLogos that missed this, but just about everyone in the conversation. It will take time to process this and reconfigure.

@DeborahHaarsma’s use of the term “sole-genetic progenitor” here does render this scenario incompatible with science. We have done work to show that a more ancient bottleneck might be possible, but the scenario she is pointing to here is only recent, and our work is not yet published.

Very gently though, I would push back on this use of the word “traditional.”

Traditional interpretations of Genesis make no reference to sole-genetic progentiorship. DNA is a recent discovery, and whatever traditional interpretations refer to, it cannot be DNA. Grudem makes this point in his chapter too, emphasizing that he is making no genetic claims about Adam and Eve or original sin. He does not rule out interbreeding. He does not specify a timeline.

Studying Grudem’s 12 claims about Adam and Eve, all of them are compatible with evolutionary science. Sole-genetic progenitorship is not one of his claims. That is good news, because his traditional de novo view of Adam and Eve, as stated in his 12 points, is not necessarily in conflict with evolutionary science.

That being said, I once again want to emphasize that BioLogos appears to be working to catch up on these matters. It will take time. As @TedDavis will likely agree, we are facing a major paradigm shift in our understanding of how evolutionary science interacts with theology. This is a process unfolding as we speak. Do not be too harsh with BioLogos in this specific moment; look instead to see how they grow in the coming months.

@BradKramer and @DeborahHaarsma thank you for your hard work on this, and the movements being made to adjust to these new findings. Peace.

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I think it’s important to remember that Biologos was showcasing the genealogical Adam as early as 2010, and it has only recently been picked up by other people, who are still catching up with where Biologos was on this subject nearly 10 years ago. I believe the reason for this is some people have found it really difficult to let go of the idea that humans didn’t evolve, and that Adam and Eve were not the first humans who existed. The genealogical Adam necessitates abandoning the traditional de novo Adam and Eve who had no ancestors. It’s a capitulation to the fact of evolution, which is why we don’t find it promoted by YEC or OEC, and why ID has stayed away from it.

What concerns me is the way that a genealogical Adam is being presented by some people using language which sounds like they’re arguing for the traditional de novo Adam and Eve who had no ancestors. This makes it sound like evolution isn’t a fact. Additionally, there’s some serious historical revisionism going on when people suggest that the traditional theological position allowed for the idea that Adam and Eve were not hiomo sapiens, but were ape-like pre-humans who may have not even been able to talk.

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Both @David_W_Opderbeck and @Jon_Garvey were prescient in recognizing the importance of the 2004 . Nature paper on universal ancestry. They certainly deserve credit.

However, a single @David_W_Opderbeck article (https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/is-there-a-historical-adam), though prescient, does not constitute either “showcasing” or a “genealogical Adam.” I also acknowledged @Jon_Garvey excellent work on this back in 2010, that was ignored at the time Hump articles on “Genealogical Adam” hypothesis | The Hump of the Camel.

In addition to genealogical ancestry, from the beginning I’ve been emphasizing de novo creation and also granting autonomy to theology by using “human” in a flexible way. Moreover, there was a great deal of resistance to the scientific claims of universal ancestry which required scientific expertise to overcome. So, in fact, it is possible that Adam and Eve were de novo created the first humans who existed AND we all evolved. Both can be true at the same time.

If BioLogos did know about all this in 2010 (and they did not) it would be gross negligence how they represented the science of Adam and Eve. The actual situation is much less nefarious. This is a major revision of our understanding of how evolutionary science interacts with theology of Adam.

That is good news. There are new opportunities for peace.

My entire point is that common descent does not in conflict with a “traditional de novo Adam and Eve who had no ancestors.” That claim includes an affirmation of evolutionary science. No one is confused by this. I affirm evolutionary science, and insist this is important science with which the Church must come to terms.

@Jonathan_Burke, any time you see someone thinking this undermines evolution, remind them that I affirm common descent, which I do.

I think it does; Biologos were the first major Christian organization of which I’m aware, to put it out in public on their site, give it space, and promote it. What amazes me is how long it took others to gradually catch on, and as I’ve said I think the main reason for this is that they recognized that a genealogical Adam involves conceding evolution.

I see this as old fashioned concordism of the type which was already out of date in the late nineteenth century, so I don’t consider it useful. And I’m someone who affirms a historical de novo Adam and Eve, and who held to a genealogical Adam before it became popular. On the science, I think you’re borrowing a bit of the “teach the controversy” strategy of the Discovery Institute.

Only if we abandon the traditional de novo Adam and Eve.

I don’t see it that way. They obviously knew about a genealogical Adam in 2010.

The traditional de novo Adam and Eve who had no ancestors, were the first humans who ever existed, and lived within the last 10,000 years. The whole point of the traditional de novo Adam and Eve is that it explains where all humans who have ever lived come from; the traditional de novo Adam and Eve view is that they all come from Adam and Eve. That is not compatible with evolutionary science.

Paging the Discovery Institute.

Friends: David Opderbeck here. I’m grateful to Josh for his recent article putting more flesh on the bones of the “geneological” idea that I flagged in that 2010 BioLogos blog. Josh corresponded with me before he published his paper, and I’m grateful for the credit he gives in the notes to that paper. Josh has scientific and mathematical capabilities to evaluate all this much more thoroughly than me.

As Josh notes, I think moving our focus away from “genetics” and towards “genealogy” provides a hopeful prospect for peace between old Earth creationists who hold to a de novo creation of Adam and theistic evolutionists who don’t, as well as, more broadly, hope for a better perspective on the relation of the scientific data and our theological concerns. In Biblical terms, I think, a focus on “genetics” is completely misplaced, since the Biblical context knows nothing at all of modern genetics. In contrast, the Biblical context is infused with ideas about “genealogy,” which is also important for our understanding of the “true Adam,” Christ. It’s about theological concepts such as stewardship, fidelity, and the Kingdom of God, not about population genetics.

For my perspective, this does not mean, or at least does not need to mean, that the “historical Adam” was created de novo. It’s an exegetical and hermeneutical mistake on numerous grounds, I think, to read Genesis 1 and 2 as “literal” accounts of the original creation that might be correlated with some paleoanthropological fact. I do, however, think that at some point in the flow of human evolutionary history, there was a kind of act of “special creation” involving the human “soul.” (I am not a substance dualist, and certainly not a Cartesian dualist, but I am a Thomistic hylemorphic dualist, consistent, I think, with the broader catholic and Patristic tradition.) There was, I think a “first adam,” a first of the genre “human” in a theological sense, but this is not something any genetic or paleontological record could confirm or deny.

On the other hand, since I am a hylemorphic dualist, I recognize that “soul” is never distinct from “body,” so perhaps there was something “de novo” about that “first” adam. We get into all sorts of broader questions about divine action here, but what is the metaphor of God shaping the man (ha-adam) from the “dust of the earth” (ָ_aphar min-haadamah_) other than an affirmation that our physical, embodied humanness is also specially, providentially crafted by God? Whether this comes about through a “readiness” in the evolutionary stream over time or through a punctiliar “miraculous” intervention is theologically of no moment: it is all God and it is all in God’s time.


Thanks David! I think the shift in focus from the genetic to the genealogical is definitely an important aspect of this conversation. You mention that this is helpful for “peace between old Earth creationists who hold to a de novo creation of Adam and theistic evolutionists who don’t”. I agree! Noting that much of the conversation above has had to do with contrasting the traditional de novo view (which includes sole progeneration) and non-traditional de novo views (which don’t include sole progeneration), I want to highlight that I think this shift from genetic to genealogical is also helpful for theistic evolutionists who do affirm a non-traditional de novo creation of Adam.

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Hi David

Good to see you back in this particular conversation after such a long time. Your insight on common ancestry is only now beginning to gain the attention some of us thought it deserved when you presented it.

This is a very important aspect, and one under-discussed in realtion to evolutionary views. I’m sympathetic to hylemorphism, too - and I’m sure you’re aware that to hylemorphist Catholics like Aquinas, and the Church that derived doctrine from him, the creation of each human soul is regarded as necessarily created directly by God, simply because of what it is. The process of natural generation is distinct from that, but part of what makes each individual a created being.

But even apart from hylemorphic dualism, the question of man’s spiritual qualities, once accepted to exist, cannot surely be explained purely biologically. Scripture states that what God is (ie spirit), man partakes of in creation (he has a spirit, analogous to the Holy Spirit he receives at conversion, with which it has communion). And so, as you say, something new was going on with the creation of ha-adam, however that being is conceived.

Not only Aquinas, but Genesis too, teaches the essential unity of the human being, “from dust” and “inbreathed” to becoming a living nepesh. If such an innovation in the world is not an act of creation, then it would seem to be something else of the same name!


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