LCMS Lutherans and Evolution


Since St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, here’s maybe a fun little example fitting our discussion…

A biblical re-write in the spirit of Jonah in Matt 12…
“A wicked and adulterous nation asks for a sign, but none shall be given it but the sign of St. Patrick. For just as St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, so I (Jesus) will drive that Serpent from this world.”

Now, St. Patrick didn’t literally drive snakes out of Ireland. But he was indeed a historical person and one might truthfully say he was used to drive out the “serpent” of paganism by the power of the Gospel. And one could use that reference to demonstrate a truth about Jesus and what he does to sin and Satan. Speaking to our “cultural river”…?

Anyhow, if you celebrate like my cousins do, be careful and get an Uber! Blessings.

(Jonathan) #102

True. Perhaps we should define what we mean by “death.” Before I attempt to define how I am understanding death in this context, please humor me with answers to a couple of questions…How many different kinds/understandings of “death” are there? What are the differences between them?

@EvolvingLutheran…I agree that truth can be packaged in different ways. I would definitely agree that the Genesis account is truth. I would also maybe agree that Genesis isn’t “concerned with scientific methodology,” but I’m still not entirely sure what you mean by “scientific methodology.” Are you saying that “Genesis tells us the ‘why’ of creation and evolution etc. tells us the ‘how’ of creation?”

I will forbear from further comment until we have these further clarifications…



I wish it were that cut and dry but generally I want to say yes…with conditions.

Genesis is dealing with Primary causes. Science deals in Secondary causes. By “scientific methodology” I’m referring to that which is observable, testable, measurable, repeatable. If my son asks, “Daddy, how did I get here?” My answer, “God made you.” (Primary cause). “How?” Answer, “He used Mommy and Daddy.” (Secondary cause). “How?” Uncomfortable silence, followed by, “Weellllll…when a Mommy and a Daddy really love each other…” (Secondary cause). “Ugh…okaaaayyy…um, why?” Answer, “Because He wanted to.” (Primary Cause).

So, I do think there is overlap. It might be good to clarify by saying Genesis deals with the primary cause in terms of “Who” and “Why”. While science deals with secondary causes mainly in terms of “what” and “how”.

The difficulty is that YEC arguments insist Genesis authoritatively treats the “how” aspect of BOTH primary and secondary causation, and that creates a conflict.

(Jonathan) #104

Interesting, @EvolvingLutheran.

A thought: if Genesis deals with Primary causes (which, of course, it does) does it follow that Genesis does not deal with any Secondary causes? I would submit that that does not (necessarily) follow. Also, the line between primary and secondary causes might be blurry at times…What if there is no secondary cause in some cases (i.e: God speaks, and then something comes into existence)?

What about Creation Science? :slight_smile:

Anyway, would you say that evolution is the “tool” God used to create?


In what way would Genesis deal with them? A measurable, observable, testable one? It doesn’t do so, unless one simply means “cause and effect” in that the created things are the result of the Primary Cause. But that’s a different matter. We’re speaking of two levels of Cause, the first Uncaused Cause of all things which cannot be measured or quantified performing an act which can’t be observed, and Secondary Causes in the natural created world that can. To use your example of God speaks, “Let there be light”, one can examine photons, their behavior, and their natural sources and the effects they have in the natural world, but one can’t examine God’s immediate creation of light itself.

:wink: Yes, Creation Science does indeed try to have it both ways, doesn’t it? But in all seriousness, that’s why it’s more an apologetic argument than science. It has an agenda to prove that Genesis is literal and true, and to “debunk” Evolution. It selectively filters or spins evidence it doesn’t like in favor of that which it does. To do this it mischaracterizes the integrity of the science and the scientists themselves.

I prefer the term “mechanism” to “tool” for theological reasons. Maybe that’s splitting hairs, but I like it better.

(Jonathan) #106

Perhaps they are the direct result of the primary cause? As in, God created ex nihlo by the power of His Word…However, I see where you are coming from more clearly now, thank you!

To be sure, a good bit of the YEC movement is apologetic argument, but I think that there is a lot of interesting science going on in the present (and future) of Creationism.

Whatever terminology you prefer! :wink: The Google dictionary defines “Mechanism” as “a natural or established process by which something takes place or is brought about.” So, if evolution is a God-established process (given that death is an important component of evolution), would that not make God the author of death? I feel that a theological can of worms is being opened, but I am nonetheless interested in hearing your take!


Only if death is seen as a moral evil and therefore a mark against the moral character of God, and if one views man as being created immortal. However the very creation of a ‘Tree of Life’ would seem to indicate he was not immortal.

As has been argued elsewhere in the forum, animal death and predation seem to be part of his order as Job 38:39-41 suggests. It’s simply the way He created his creatures to receive their sustenance. Some argue that is cruel, but how should we define cruelty? Animals killing animals to survive is quite different from the sadistic moral cruelty humans exhibit toward each other and the Created world. The death Genesis and Romans 5 refers to is related to man and his rebellion against his creator. Given that man is created in God’s image with higher moral faculties, reason, and responsibility only man can be held responsible for, be punished, and be denied eternal life in that particular way. Animals have no such moral conscience or responsibility so as to transgress the command of God.


Yeah, this is really an important issue. It brings in Romans 5 which is key. Until this issue can be resolved for someone it’s impossible to move forward. I suspect that this is the gate for everyone who holds a high view of the Scriptures.

In the Missouri Synod circles this will be the issue. Romans 5.

(Jonathan) #109

Greetings, @EvolvingLutheran!

The Holy Scriptures describe death as an enemy to be destroyed (I Corinthians 10:25). The Scriptures also describe death as the wages of sin. Both of which indicate that death is a moral evil (and/or the result of moral evil, although moral evil might not be the correct terminology for this context).

The Scriptures say little about the Tree of Life, so I will forbear from saying more than this (at the moment):
In Genesis, God does not say that Adam “must eat from the Tree of Life, or he will surely die.” God does, however, tell Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge “for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” There is not a law connected with the Tree of Life, but there is one connected with the Tree of Knowledge.

I really like Job 38-40. They remind us how utterly microscopic our knowledge really is when compared to God’s:

Job 40:3-5 (ESV)
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”

I suppose predation is part of the post-fall natural order that is currently in existence. However, the book of Job certainly doesn’t say that it was an aspect of God’s original “very good” creation. Certain other passages of Scripture also imply that predation wasn’t a part of God’s original Creation (I believe we’ve brought some of them up in this discussion already).

(Side note). Lutheran theologians generally say that the Image of God was lost at the fall (however, we also say that humans still have special dignity as beings who were created in the Image of God and that the Image of God is being restored in Christians [although it won’t be fully restored until the resurrection]).

The Image of God is another thing that I would be interested in hearing your take on. Does evolution affect this doctrine?

Hi, @mlkluther

How do you resolve Romans 5?

Thank you both for this interesting discussion, and I look forward to hearing (well…reading :wink: ) your responses! :slight_smile:

(Randy) #110

I’m enjoying this discussion and all your very irenic, Lutheran kindness among yourselves! I hope you don’t mind if I ask a question.

I wonder if you have read “Evolution of Adam” by Pete Enns;

and also this blurb about Augustine and Romans 5:12?

Thank you!


I see neither verse in conflict with the idea. Death is an enemy to be destroyed and it is the wages of sin. Allow me a temporary scriptural insert to help frame it: “The wages of human sin is human death.”
So I see your point and agree that death is a ‘moral evil’ in terms of human agency. But what I was referring to was the idea that if death occurred before the Fall, then God is the author of death. Like the Problem of Evil, one might argue a good moral God could not be the author of death (so defined) and still be good. So I wouldn’t say death is always a ‘moral evil’ when it comes to God.

We’d then also have to define our concept of kosmos (world) where “death came into the world through a man” as not meaning the entirety of creation, but the world of men. Animals after all are not moral agents but men are. Man sinned. Man is punished.

Yes. What I am saying is that part of the curse and spiritual death of man is that he is forbidden from eating from that tree. And the fact that there WAS a tree indicates that he was not immortal. His rebellion sealed that fate by cutting off that possibility, which is restored in Christ.

Yet the overall context of God’s questioning of Job is “Where were you when I did all these things?” which includes the universe and creation before mankind existed. Scripture does not preclude animal predation pre-Fall. Animals are not moral agents therefore death is not punishment…it’s dinner.:wink:

Amen to what you said in your side note. But no I don’t think so. Science can only study the evolution of physiology. The gap between humans and primates is real when it comes to our spiritual capacities and calling which science can’t measure.

Look forward to your thoughts.
Thanks for the links to @Randy! Haven’t read them yet. “Irenic”…that’s going to be my vocabulary word for the day!

(Jonathan) #112

Other Scripture passages also imply that death was not an aspect of God’s original created order. For instance, let’s check out Romans 8:

Romans 8:19-23 (ESV)
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Among other things, this passage shows that the Fall affected all of God’s creation (not just the world of man).

I am beginning to have a better understanding of your reasoning. Does the fact that the Tree of Life exists in heaven indicate that those who enter God’s Kingdom of Glory are not immortal?

Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This still seems like a stretch to me. It is true that the earlier verses of Job 38 discuss the Creation, but the later verses seem to be describing the post-fall world (and, given the other verses we have discussed, it would continue to make most sense for the verse to be discussing the post-fall natural order).

Well…You appear to think that humans are moral agents, and you also appear to think that there was human death before the fall, correct?

One learns a lot from participating on all these forums! :wink:

I look forward to hearing from you!


I’m glad you brought that verse up because I’ve thought of it often and it seems to fit nicely with what I’m saying. First consider that we are part of that creation that was subjected to futility because we were forbidden from eternal life due to our own disobedience. Second, consider how all of creation since then suffers under the hand of human sin, both in how man treats man and how he abuses the rest of creation. He was meant to rule, tend, and steward creation but the loss of the imago Dei he can no longer bring forth the fruit of creation without twisting it. Only is this rectified in Christ. All of this frustration and suffering of creation is directly related to man’s disobedience. And in this way the Fall does affect and frustrate all of creation. We are terrible masters.

That’s not my reasoning at all. Revelation is a highly metaphorical book. Of course those who enter God’s Kingdom are immortal already. You and I have already eaten from the Tree of Life. We eat of Him every week! We are crucified along with Him upon that Tree already. The symbol of the Tree in Revelation simply points to the fact that death has been swallowed up in victory and the only thing remaining IS life.


Perhaps. Perhaps not. Both work. However, I’d point out that God never speaks of the activity of predation in terms of sorrow or sin. He exults in the strength of his creatures and expresses so in terms of delight.

Yes, humans are moral agents. But no, I never said I thought there was human death. I don’t know. I’m not reading Genesis literally. What I did say was that for those reading it literally, the fact that the narrative puts a Tree of Life in the Garden indicates that man could eat of it and live forever. Therefore if he didn’t…he wouldn’t. I think that’s more a problem for literalists to work out.

Back to you, my friend!


I’m enjoying the conversation. I’m not chipping in much because you guys are covering the conversation well!

One of the questions that has to be dealt with is, if one allows for evolution to be the way in which God brought about human life, at what point in that process did the unique human come into being? That question may play a role in the idea of human death before the Fall.


Absolutely! So very key.


Could we find a theological basis for that at least partially in Romans 2:14-15:
“Indeed when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

Along with Romans 5:12-14 there is this idea of culpability when one goes against “conscience” even when there is no law.

One thing that seems to be part of that Imago Dei that separates us from primates and hominids is this idea of conscience, moral awareness, culpability, creativity and responsibility. At some point that imprimatur was impressed upon us, whether as an individual (a literal Adam and Eve) or archetypal (all humanity which they represent).

This is all just pious opinion at this point but perhaps it begins with conscience. In other words, one has to be aware of God and his command. I don’t know that I could even argue “self-aware” at this point because that would entail a knowledge of “right and wrong” (good and evil). But the capability of transgressing something one’s conscience knows one shouldn’t do. Or perhaps it comes with this notion of responsibility. At some point what makes us human is knowing we have a mandate to care and tend this creation and bring forth its fruit and to be creative as our Maker is creative.

But what is clear is that as Romans 3 elaborates, we all universally have chosen the wrong. We have all from our mother’s wombs born evidence against ourselves that we know the right and choose the wrong.

What do you think?


I don’t have an answer. It’s where I’ve run up against something that I can’t figure out - and have not been able to spend the time studying on this specific question. Well, I have…a little, but not enough.

Lamouruex has his answer…no historic Adam…a mysterious process about 10,000 years ago (if I’m remembering correctly). I’m not sure why that necessarily follows from the rest of his argument…but that’s where he’s landed.

Walton goes for the archetypal Adam, though doesn’t rule out that there may have been an historic Adam. I think Longman is more or less in line with this.

Swamidass goes for the genealogical Adam…but I haven’t been able to get my head around that to understand it sufficiently.

(Jonathan) #118

Greetings, @mlkluther and @EvolvingLutheran!

I would like to give you both fair warning that I will be insanely busy this next week and will thus (probably) not be able to respond to your comments just yet.

I have enjoyed this conversation, and I hope that it will be/continue to be profitable for all of us! :slight_smile:

God’s blessings to you both!

(Jonathan) #119

Greetings to all (@mlkluther, @EvolvingLutheran) once again! I have emerged alive from last week, so I suppose I should endeavor to reply to your comments! :wink:

I’m not sure I disagree with what you’re saying here (as in, in that paragraph), perhaps you would be as so kind as to clarify?

Is it then not reasonable to assume that Adam and Eve were “already immortal” in the Garden of Eden? In Heaven, the original perfection of Creation is restored.

Well, unless God created a world already marred by death, this would have been the case before the Fall as well (see above for the rest of this thought process).

God doesn’t describe the destruction of the Cannanites or the firstborn of Egypt in terms of sorrow or sin either. God rules over evil and works all for good. Even the Devil is most subservient to God’s power! God rules over the post-fall natural order as well.

How do you read it? That would provide some great clarification for this conversation! :slight_smile:

After the fall, that was certainly the case (God directly says so)! However, we really can’t assume that it had the same function before the Fall (just as the Sacrament has different effects on Christians vs. non-believers, that is spiritual life vs. spiritual judgement).


To summarize the point, the frustration is that humans are forbidden eternal life and that creation suffers under our hand.

I don’t see why that assumption need be made. What’s the point of a Tree of Life from which one could eat and live forever if one already possessed immortality? As for restoring creation’s original perfection, it doesn’t say it was perfect. It says it was very good. What’s coming is perfect.

But who says it is “marred”? God feeding his creatures by means of other creatures, if He made it so, is not a marring of creation. It’s an indication of His good provision.

He certainly doesn’t delight in their strength or commend their doing so. And we know clearly of His displeasure over human sin and disobedience. It’s not the same thing. There is no disagreement over God’s divine rule however, either over turning human or Satanic evil to His purposes and ruling over a fallen world. Praise God for that!

As I’ve said already, I read Genesis as holy narrative. A divine story with parabolic elements that conveys theological truth. Truth about God and His Creation, his purposes for Man, and Man’s rebellion. I am not reading it as literal historical truth in terms of a calendar week of six 24-hour day creation.

I don’t see why not.

Glad you made it through your week! Been barely keeping my head above water here as well.