Murray and Churchill: Mere Theistic Evolution

A very interesting article is available from the upcoming ETS meeting. This article is written by Michael Murray and John Churchill, and linked to in their program (

Touching on Grudem’s 12 reasons for rejecting TE, they acknowledge the GAE. Note reason 7 that Grudem rejects evolution, because in TE:

  1. Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.


It is easy to see how the meanings of claims 1-12 could vary significantly depending on how one understands this latter phrase. Take claim 7 for example: “Human death did not begin as a result of Adam’s sin, for human beings existed long before Adam and Eve and they were always subject to death.” If by “human beings” one means not Homo sapiens but rather Adam, Eve, and their descendants, then the mere theistic evolutionist might well deny this claim. For on that understanding, one might hold that while Homo sapiens lived and died before Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve and their offspring (who are only a subset of the complete set of Homo sapiens) were not subject to death until Adam’s sin.

That is exactly the point. We cant really see conflict with any of Grudem’s theological points. It brings them to, I believe, the right conclusion.

In the preceding sections, we have labored primarily to show that that there are versions of theistic evolution that hew largely to consensus views in biology and yet remain viable options for Christians with traditional commitments on certain key doctrines.


This paper by Churchill and Murray is the jumping-off point for a three-hour session on theistic evolution at the EPS annual meeting (Wednesday 11/20). Speakers include Churchill and Murray, Thomas McCall of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Jeff Schloss of Westmont College, William Lane Craig, and Steve Meyer and me (Discovery Institute). I will post a link to my reply paper here when it’s ready.


@pnelson I am looking forward to the Theistic Gravitational Waves session should it be scheduled. :sunglasses:


Looking forward to it. I feel like they absolutely nailed the book (which I have read thanks to you) But maybe I’m missing something. So looking forward to reading your reply.


I have always considered TE/EC and ID to be compatible, so that it is perfectly coherent to be an “evolutionary intelligent design creationist”. The strong opposition to TE from certain ID groups have always seemed confusing to me - there are many ways to integrate ID and TE. For example one could adhere to ID with respect to cosmic fine tuning and be either a theistic evolutionist or young earth creationist. Or one could simply say that evolution is intelligently designed. Perhaps there have been miracles along the way but not because evolution doesn’t work but because God had some other reason to intervene. Perhaps the origin of life was miraculous and the succeeding events were directed. Or if God has designed the evolutionary mechanisms to function as a genetic optimization algorithm then clearly it is intelligent design. There are endless possibilities. I am sure we all know YECists who prefer to be in the ID camp. The same might true of TEists.

I would have loved to see Del Ratzsch on the panel. His “Nature, Design and Science” is IMHO the most insightful characterization of ID that I have read.

I’m looking forward to reading your reply Paul.


Hi Sebastian,

Did we meet when I visited Sweden on a lecture tour, about 13 years ago?

TE / EC and ID are indeed compatible – depending on how one defines TE and ID. Mike Behe, for instance, holds to TE (understood as universal common descent) because he defines ID as “design is empirically detectable.” Historically, Alfred Russel Wallace defended a form of TE & ID, compelling Darwin to object to Wallace in a letter that he had killed their child:

Most TEs, however, also hold to methodological naturalism (MN), which rules out design as a scientific matter. To my mind, MN is the real dividing line between ID and other ideas.

I’d like very much to have your thoughts on my reply paper to Churchill and Murray, which I hope to post a link to shortly.


11 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on Murray and Churchill

Here is my reply essay, responding to Churchill and Murray:

Bill Craig’s organization Reasonable Faith video-recorded the whole seminar, so you should be able to watch it some time in the near future. I’ll keep an eye out for the URL when it’s available.

This 1993 discussion paper is also relevant:

26 years after writing that discussion paper for Pajaro Dunes, I’m still trying to sort out my thinking about the testability of universal common descent (UCD). (!!!) On any given morning, I can argue with conviction that UCD is a testable theory, and in fact is false. The next morning, grumpy Paul says baloney to the Paul of the previous day: UCD is held axiomatically by most evolutionary biologists, and is no more “falsifiable” or testable than the parallel postulate in Euclidean geometry.

That’s crazy-ass talk, you say? Here is systematist Andrew Brower in the latest issue of the journal Cladistics, reviewing David Quammen’s new book on Carl Woese, The Tangled Tree (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Woese spent the last two decades of his career railing against UCD; Darwin’s monophyletic Tree of Life, Woese asserted, was false.

Brower says baloney:

Quammen evidently does not grasp the simple philosophical principle that the irregularly bifurcating hierarchy is not a picture of evolutionary history that is true or false, but an epistemological framework or model through which we understand patterns of relationship, and without which, the notion of horizontal transfer is meaningless. The tree-like pattern is an a priori assumption of phylogenetic analysis, albeit corroborated by more than two centuries of empirical data…

(Cladistics 35 [2019]: 600–602; p. 601)

“Not true or false,” an “epistemological framework,” and an “a priori assumption” sound like UCD should be understood as an axiom.

I can’t buy that. It is, or is not the case, that all organisms on Earth descended with modification from a common ancestor, LUCA. UCD is either true or false.

OK, I’ll think differently tomorrow.


Thank you! I will be posting William Lane Craig’s response soon as well.

Finding a species with completely different codon usage would absolutely falsify UCD, so it is easily testable. Universal common descent was always an open question until the overwhelming genetic evidence came in. Even Darwin proposed that life could have had multiple origins:

No, he doesn’t. It is absolutely true that phylogenetic analysis assumes a tree-like structure. However, if UCD is false then any such analysis would return a poor fit to a tree-like structure. That’s what makes UCD testable, the phylogenetic signal that is objectively measured using the methods.


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