LCMS Lutherans and Evolution

(Jonathan) #121

I guess the main disagreement is whether or not humans (and animals) died before the fall…

It seems to be a valid assumption, given that the Tree of Life is in both places.

What are God’s criteria for something being good and/or perfect?

If death isn’t bad (and is just a sign of God’s good provision), why are we examining the nuance between good and perfect? Is this an acknowledgement that death is an imperfection (and marring) of God’s creation?

God provides for His creatures, even within this fallen world. However, I see nothing in Scripture which indicates that this was the case before the Fall. In fact, before the Fall, God specifically gives plants for food:

Genesis 1:30
And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

An additional question on this subject that may be interesting: if predation existed before the fall, were humans off-limits? If so, how and why?

The Scriptures also describe God’s displeasure over death (once again, death is described as an enemy to be destroyed). Death is also described as the wages of sin.

That is probably due to my forgetfulness of the earlier portions of the conversation (these conversation often happen over a rather long timeframe :slight_smile: ). Anyhow, another interesting question: when, in your view, does the narrative of Genesis switch from parabolic to historical (assuming it does)?

Thanks! This time of year tends to get pretty busy… :wink:

God’s peace!


It seems to me a distinction can be made between death as punishment and death by way of provision. One deals with disobedience while the other does not. The marring of God’s creation comes with human disobedience and subsequent punishment. And that would certainly be something God would be displeased and saddened over, the breaking of faith, the punishment of man, the pain man inflicts upon the rest of creation and other beings made in His image.

It’s a good question and I think it’s at the heart the others you mentioned. I’m uncertain. And the more I think on it I’m not sure that it ultimately matters, because the truth is found in Christ. He makes the misty things clear. I can be sure of Him and His resurrection when I can be sure of nothing else. To your point though, I am more comfortable with what archaeology can confirm. I’m less comfortable when other scientific disciplines show ample evidence to the contrary. I’m also ok however with living with that tension.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of late on other creation mythologies and cultures such as Sumerian, Phoenician, Egyptian, and Babylonian given that they are all around the same area and might have been known to the biblical authors whether Moses, Ezra, the Masoretes. What I find remarkable about the Biblical narrative is that there is far less poetry, embellishment, and fantastical descriptions as are found in say the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Egyptian mythologies. Genesis seems unique in defining God as above creation rather than arising from it, the absence of demigod figures, the total humanity of man. I think it interesting that only Babylon of the surrounding cultures had a seven day week like Israel, which might be worth considering if a post-exile Ezra compiled or influenced what would become the canon of Jewish scripture.

All this to say that I don’t know about any hard and fast line of demarcation between divine narrative and history. But ok with it being somewhat messy. I think that often our modern systematic minds want to logically plug things into place and proof text everything to death to the point we can’t consider other possibilties. Ancient middle eastern cultures and others seem less concerned with what we see as contradictions. And those are the people who were the authors, compilers, and intended audience of the biblical texts.


Generally there has been a line drawn at Genesis 1-11. However, I must confess to be unclear as to the rationale and this is an area I wish to explore in far greater detail.

I think in many ways this is one of the essential questions that must be addressed. I recognize this as an area that is a legitimate question and can’t be dismissed readily by those who may wish to move from a fundamentalist reading of Genesis. The questions J.E.S. Has raised need to be seriously addressed.

I hear that this issue may well be a part of the discussion at the LCMS convention this summer. If it is, then I pray my brothers and sisters in the LCMS can recognize quickly that doing theology through convention isn’t a good idea. It then becomes power/politics and looses all nuance.

(Jonathan) #124

This seems dangerously close to what we call the “Magisterial use of reason” (which, if I remember correctly, is defined as “judging Scripture on the basis of reason and evidence”). It almost sounds as if you are saying that you believe the Scriptures only insofar as they do not conflict with “science.”

Alternately, am I misreading your post (and consequently missing the actual point you are trying to make)?

What about God and divine inspiration?

I concur with the sentiment that this would be a good area to explore further!

As long as the LCMS continues to stand of the Word of God, we will hopefully be fine :wink: . God doesn’t do theology on majority rule and neither should we! :slight_smile:

I agree! As we continue the discussion, I would like to bring up this question from my previous post that I think got lost in the shuffle :wink: :

Anyway, many thanks to both of you (@EvolvingLutheran, @mlkluther) for continuing this interesting discussion with me! It has been a pleasure to have such a gracious discussion here!



No, the magisterial use of reason as I understand it has to do with the tyranny of reason over and above the gospel. That’s different. Nothing we are discussing has to do with justifying faith. When it comes to our interpretation of Scripture, when science presents ample evidence to challenge our interpretation which we have arrived at by the ministerial use of reason, it should be considered. And I am more comfortable when the archaeological evidence is there to support it, rather than be silent or contrary to it.

Is it your view that God gives dictation and Moses wrote it down like a scribe? Or is it that men wrote as 1 Peter describes “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”? Am I missing your point? Divine inspiration is through the whole process.

Yes, I’d concur with that being the usual spot. I was thinking of other events that are lacking in extra-biblical support, seem to go against known evidence, or like Jonah stretch credulity for literal readings. Or even like Job which has elements of an old story with dramatic elements as opposed to actual events. But perhaps that confuses matters.

No, but we’ll keep trying! :wink: In all seriousness though, given our track record I’m not going to hold my breath.:slightly_smiling_face:

Wouldn’t the question posit a literal reading? So let’s say it does. Theoretically I suppose the answer would be no. As to how and why it’d be pure conjecture. But we may be getting close to how many angels dancing on pins. :grinning: I mean no disrespect. Just having fun.
CORRECTION:. No as in no they would NOT be eaten. Yes, they would be off limits. I just re-read that.

(Christy Hemphill) #126

If you are reading Genesis as history but accept the idea that nature was in some ways hostile even before the Fall (i.e. predation and thorns existed before humans, facts that are observable in the fossil record.), the narrative clearly presents God as putting humanity in a safe and protected space of flourishing nature. The text does not claim that all of nature is Edenic. Banishment from this safe and sacred space where God was present in a special way (and predation and thorns were not, perhaps) is part of the curse.


That’s a good point, Christy. Thanks!

(Jonathan) #128

Greetings, @EvolvingLutheran!

That’s certainly a big part of it, but the tyranny of reason can be (and is) applied to other areas of Scripture as well. Further, are you advocating Gospel Reductionism? I would submit that it is dangerous to attempt to divorce the Gospel from the rest of the Holy Scriptures.

So science becomes the standard by which we evaluate Scripture?

These two possibilities don’t seem to be mutually exclusive…Ultimately, we do know that “Scripture cannot be broken” and that “Every word of God proves true.”

Once again, is this an appeal to “extra-Biblical evidence” as a higher authority than the Scriptures? This seems to fall into the “I believe the Bible insofar as it does not challenge that which I know from the authority of science” reasoning…

Thanks for the correction! I had interpreted your comment as saying the exact opposite of what it turns out you actually meant! :wink: You are also correct that the how and why would be/are pure conjecture. It is still my impression (mostly considering the points brought up in this discussion) that the theological arguments for pre-Fall predation are grasping at exegetical straws while Scripture seems to pretty strongly indicate otherwise…At any rate, why is pre-Fall predation important for EC?

God’s peace to you once again as we enter Holy Week!


I categorically reject Gospel reductionism in all forms, as much as I also categorically reject fundamentalism.

No. I did not say that. Listen to me very carefully, please. Not Scripture. Our _interpretation_of Scripture. Our interpretation is not infallible. As science provides new evidence that challenges our interpretation, at a certain point it may need to be reevaluated. Fundamentalism says no to that.

Yes and I agree. However, there is a flawed logic critics of Gospel reductionism such as the good folks at _Steadfast Lutherans_employ that fails to consider that Jesus can use exaggeration or hyperbole to drive a point home.
Example: (since I brought it up). Jesus mentions the sign of Jonah. The argument goes that since Jesus mentioned Jonah, and Jesus only mentions what is factually true. Scripture can’t be broken. Jonah therefore is factually true.
But we see Jesus using such exaggeration to effect elsewhere. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” His enemies thought he literally meant the physical temple. His disciples did too, until after he rose from the dead. “Then they understood his message.”
So when Jesus references Jonah, he doesn’t do it to validate the truth of Jonah as much as to point out something true about Himself. The fundamentalist critic has no room in their rationalization for this. Even though there is no creature known to man with an esophagus large enough to swallow a person without suffocating him, even though it is unlikely a Jewish prophet would be sent to far-flung Nineveh, even though it wouldn’t take him three days to walk through the city, even though there’s no record (to my knowledge) of a great repentance, even though Jonah is uncharacteristic of any other prophetic book because it is more about the prophet than his audience, nevertheless Jesus said it so that settles it. I’m not saying it absolutely didn’t happen. Maybe it did just that way. But I’m saying Jesus’ reference of it may not be what we think it is and our interpretation , again there’s that word, may be off. Regardless, the resurrection _does_prove Jesus was speaking factual truth about Himself and that’s the point.

See the first answer.

I think it’s important because it provides a theological challenge that needs to be reconciled. And it’s important in how we evaluate what we see in scientific discovery.

Happy Triumphal Entry!


As Lamoureux points out very well in his books and his great free online course…see the Galileo affair.


Thanks for the reminder. Had some time and went through the Galileo section of the online material today. Enjoyed it! Remarkable the parallels to today’s debate on origins.

(Jonathan) #132

Greetings, @EvolvingLutheran and @mlkluther!

I am glad that you reject Gospel reductionism! What exactly is fundamentalism and why do you reject it? (Over the course of my forays within the origins arena, I have come across the term “fundamentalism” quite a bit, but I am still quite unsure as to what people actually mean when they use it)…

This slogan seems to embody the typical EC rhetoric. This rhetoric attempts to create a theological bait-and-switch which allows the EC to reject the infallibility of Scripture without rejecting the infallibility of Scripture (example: " x is what the Scriptures appear to say, but I really can’t be certain of x because x is only my interpretation and, consequently, it might be wrong). This sort of rhetoric undermines the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture and ultimately leads to the conclusion that the words of the Bible are not decipherable by “ordinary” people (in addition to ultimately turning on the EC as this “theological skepticism” seeks out new targets). Being the Lutherans we are, let’s interpret Scripture with Scripture.

I certainly don’t deny that Jesus utilized hyperbole and parabolic elements when He taught (and I’m sure our friends at Steadfast Lutherans would also affirm this fact). However, we certainly can’t apply hyperbole to anything and everything Jesus says (and I’m sure you would also agree with that). Some EC’s seemingly attempt to cite Jesus’s use of hyperbole whenever they need to dismiss something Jesus says that they don’t like (and I’m sure you would join me in condemning that as well). This also ultimately brings in the points I discussed in the previous paragraph.

You might be interested in the fact that there was (until the Islamic State recently destroyed it) a site near ancient Ninevah (in modern-day Iraq) known as the “Tomb of the Prophet Jonah.” (I will leave any further conclusions to your future research :wink: ).

But, as you see, the Scriptures don’t leave us to sort out whether or not that was a metaphor (John 2:19-21 explains what the metaphor means). Once again, Scripture interprets Scripture.

Out of curiosity, if you don’t interpret Genesis literally, why is it still a problem?

Once again, God’s richest blessings on this Holy Week!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #133

I suspect that what is currently posted on Wikipedia about Fundamentalism is probably pretty close to what a lot of folks around here are thinking of with the term, except that around here, Young-Earth-Creationism is seen as almost certainly part of the Christian (and perhaps peculiarly American) version of the fundamentalist package now, though that wasn’t explicitly one of the original listed “fundamentals”.

Or to give a “Polkinghorne spin” on it:

Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne states that, “In our contemporary society, people want black and white answers…they want absolute certainty about things.” Fundamentalism is then discussed as a means by which people attempt to construct those black and white answers.

(Phil) #134

Roger Olson’s take on fundamentalism:


Thanks @Mervin_Bitikofer and @jpm for those article.

Fundamentalism a big topic with a lot of history. For sake of our discussion, I’m going to boil it down to the term Biblicism (as opposed to sola Scriptura), expressed in terms of “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” It’s really just another form of the Supremacy of Reason but using the Bible. It’s the polar opposite of Scientism.

I understand the perspicuity of Scripture as the idea that Scripture is sufficiently clear to the degree that Christians, with the Spirit’s help, can understand it and know what we need for the Christian faith and Christian life. And it is. All that is necessary for eternal life and godliness for the “ordinary Christian” is completely within his or her grasp. No theological degree required.

It does not however mean that Scripture has authority in areas beyond the Christian life it is not designed to address. It is a message of Salvation, not a message of Science as we’ve said.

Appealling to Interpretation is not simply a bait and switch tactic to reject infallibility. Scripture is not self-interpreting. Would that it were! The principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture is very good and helpful. But it’s a tool, not a litmus test. If it were, Baptists and Lutherans who both appeal to the principle wouldn’t arrive at completely different understandings of Baptism.

By saying we can interpret Genesis 1-11 by Scripture alone while ignoring what God’s Second Book (Nature) offers that interpretation is a surefire way back to square one leaving us to chase our tail. Discussion then is a foregone conclusion. “The Bible says 6 24 hour days. That settles it. YEC it is.”

Regarding Jesus’ use of hyperbole. I’m certainly not applying hyperbole to anything and everything, but offered a very specific case which has very real challenges to a literal interpretation. It addresses the opposite tendency of the biblicist to cite absolute literal factual and historical accuracy to anything and everything Jesus references.

It isn’t a problem for me personally. But it is an issue in having the conversation with my Lutheran brothers and sisters. That’s the challenge.

Have a blessed Easter! He is Risen Indeed!

(Albert Leo) #136

Archeological evidence supports the belief that humankind began with a Great Leap Forward (Jared Diamond’s term), as witnessed by the sudden appearance of sophisticated cave art and respectful burial of. their dead. This contradicts Richard Dawkins contention that evolution always acts in ‘small steps’ and has no direction. However, accepting the GLF may prove problematic for LCMS Lutherans in that it supports Original Blessing over Original Sin, and replaces the Fall with a Failure to Rise from our animal roots, which is what the Gift of Mind/Conscience gives us the opportunity to do.
Al Leo


I must confess ignorance to some of the concepts you mention…but I am intrigued.

Could you elaborate on what you mean by “Original Blessing” as well as “Failure to Rise?” I have an intimation as to what “Failure to Rise” likely means.

As a confessional Lutheran, who also sees EC as a possible approach that remains faithful to God’s Word…I believe there is a fog or black box around when humans with a unique relationship with God came to be. In one way or another - this seems to be a struggle to answer.I don’t see the GLF, as you’ve briefly outlined, as necessarily a problem.


I understand the struggle that is represented in this paragraph. However, I believe it is too simple of a rejection of a much more complicated issue. Pushing back to “let’s interpret Scripture with Scripture” doesn’t solve the issue. If it was as simple as all that - then every Christian in the world now, and throughout history, would have come to the same conclusions. We Lutherans, ultimately, need to wrestle with the issue of authority. I recall it being mentioned to me many years ago while I was in University that “the perpetual issue for Lutherans, and their potential Achilles’ heel, will always be authority.” I didn’t know what that meant back then. I certainly do now…and I happen to think it may be true.We have no interpretive authority. To say “Scripture interprets Scripture” simply throws it back into the realm of the subjective…because the individuals in this conversation would all argue that they are doing so. It is the postmodern problem…and though I don’t agree with the postmodern philosopher’s answers (that ultimately leads to incoherence and nihilism)…I don’t think we can disregard the very real problems that postmodernism has revealed that existed in the modern mindset.

Furthermore, I would suggest that while the Bible can be read by “ordinary” people…the Bible is not a simple or easy book to read. It is an ancient text with many different historical and cultural settings and influences. It takes some expertise to read it…just as it does to read and understand any ancient text (or even Shakespeare or Chaucer). An example of this might very well be how regularly the Parables of Jesus are misunderstood because of a lack of knowledge of the ANE background. Or, how routinely Revelation is completely misinterpreted because the genre and background is not understood. Or…“I can do all things through Christ” is interpreted to mean that if I just try and believe enough I could make the starting lineup of a NHL hockey team (the fact that no one drafted me when I was 18 is still a bitter pill and I am still waiting for the phone to ring to play centre for the Oilers),


First I’ve heard of this as well. I’m a bit of a newb though. But after a quick look at it, is there any validity to the argument by geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells who says the Paleolithic art discovered in Peche Merle Cave in France raises a challenge to Diamond’s view of sudden appearance in favor of a more gradual one?

This is the part I’d be concerned with. Sounds like more than a question of wording it. I’m curious for you to elaborate on that as well.

Thanks, Al.

(Albert Leo) #140

@mlkluther & @EvolvingLutheran I am pleased that my recent posts have ‘pricked your curiosity’ enough that you would want to learn more of a worldview that you would undoubtedly NOT subscribe to. Judging from the content of both of your posts, you have already found the path that optimizes your chances of leading a productive, satisfying life. Scripture (Matt.7:16) says “by their fruits you shall know them”, but a skillful horticulturist will promise that a variety of good fruit can be produced by grafting to a healthy rootstock.

As a matter of background, when I came home from a high school biology class praising the value of a belief in evolution, my sainted mother replied: “Maybe YOU descended from a monkey, but I did not”. I dropped the subject, because, even if I made a convincing argument, it was unlikely to change her life for the better.

My worldview, which largely replaces Original Sin with Original Blessing, owes much to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but his earlier, more well-known works (Phenomenon of Man, Divine Millieu) were, to me at least, somewhat obscure–due, perhaps, to the translation from the French, or (more likely) to make it easier to deflect the expected criticism from the Vatican. His later, shorter works are clearer, but I still got a clearer understanding from various interpretations, the most recent of which “From Teilhard to Omega” Ilia Delio, Ed. which I highly recommend. (available on Amazon)

As a Cradle Catholic, educated K-8 in parochial school, I had minimal exposure to study of the Bible. In both classroom and the sermons in church I was fed a “sanitized version”, especially of the Old Testament. It wasn’t until I attended a (secular) high school, choosing a career in science where I was encouraged to think for myself, that I realized there was the possibility of conflict between (1) a belief in a literal Genesis and (2) a preference for the use of experimental facts to build scientific theories upon which a reliable worldview could be built. Relying on my own untrained exegetical methods, I could not reconcile the angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament (killing all the firstborn Egyptians and sending a Flood to wipe out most of humankind) with the God Jesus described as a Loving Father. I decided that it was better if I became a “Cafeteria Catholic”, choosing the passages from Scripture that fully supported the concepts of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘be a good steward of the marvelous planet Earth’. And there is nothing in the evidence that supports evolution that would lead one to believe that the first humans occupied some sort of Eden where living was easy and everlasting. If our interpretation of Genesis was faulty on that score, and it wasn’t Adam’s disobedience and Fall that resulted in what we now see as a ‘broken world’, perhaps it was the opposite: Humankind was given the Gift of Mind/Conscience so they could Rise above the animal nature that ‘ordinary evolution’ decreed was in store for them. Refusal to take full advantage of this Gift was Original Sin.

Taking this ‘Cafeteria’ approach to the construction of my worldview, I realize I am open to the charge of heresy: that “I am making God in my Image”, rather than the phrase in Genesis that “God made humans in His Image”. Shouldn’t I fear that this is an example of overweening Pride on my part? Perhaps. But I believe that my Creator entered into a few experiences of my personal life (twice in World War II, and at least once since then) with messages as clear as any sent to the prophets of the Old Testament–albeit with personal, rather than world wide, importance. Pretty weird, huh? Especially coming from someone who has spent the last 70 yrs. as a practicing scientist.

None of this should make good sense to most Christians–certainly not to those with Lutheran or Calvanist backgrounds. Nevertheless, there is one point I would like to get across: Don’t think that God spoke directly only to the ancient prophets and no longer does so to humans in this modern age. He may send messages in a very subtle manner that can be lost in the distractions in modern society–definitely not on Facebook or Twitter.
Al Leo