Thinking Again About EC, TE, and CASE/CAES

It will be soon the time for me to write more on this specific topic: EC, TE, and CASE. But that time has not yet come. Soon…


Very interesting topic! Look forward to reading what you have to say. As a theologian my main interest is in having a good umbrella term as a basis for discussion of the various hypotheses.

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I see “theistic” as a rather generic, philosophically broad adjective, which when attached to “evolution”, is reasonably self explanatory, and does not in itself suggest or exclude any particular school of thought beyond the basic meaning of the words.

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There are two main reasons I tend to hear for the preference of EC over TE. @Rumraket mentioned one–i.e., TE is so broad, it encompasses those beyond one’s comfortable limitations of “theistic.” So EC signals something more conservative, perhaps more orthodox. The other is that many think the noun is more important than the adjective, thus “evolutionary creationism” > “theistic evolution.” This also allows EC the same footing as other “creationist” positions.

@swamidass is the first evolution-affirming Christian I’ve encountered who’s made a case (no pun intended) against the label EC. I also look forward to his further explanation of this.

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Agree. I called myself an evolutionary theist until the Henry Center debate I took part in and still do. Started using the term evolutionary creationism when writing because it seems to be more frequently used now than evolutionary theism. Also, given the polarisation associated with much of the creation/evolution debate, a phrase that contains both words can certainly give rise to ambiguity! When using it I am always careful to apply it in a way that encompasses all of the leading hypotheses.

In most theological circles I know (e.g. the broad range represented at The Creation Project), EC signals something LESS conservative, with a strong anti-traditional orthodox-reductionism. That’s been true for a long time.

At TEDS, I commonly heard that scholars were open to evolution per se, but had strong negative positions with respect to EC and the BioLogos “approach” as BL sometimes calls it.

It has been coming to a head in recent years, with Michael Murray, John Churchill, WLC, and Tom McCall all weighing in it, and calling for recognition of CASE views that are distinct from EC. There isn’t consensus on a term yet, with Murray proposing Mere TE (remember ETS?) but many of us don’t like that term for a host of reasons.

So perhaps I’m the first person you heard say it this, but there are a lot of us. I’m not unique or even the first.

I had hope early on that EC/BL would adapt to be a bigger tent, with less of a theological agenda and more aligned with science. Unfortunately they were resolutely opposed to that option. That’s their decision though, and we should respect it.

Still, that means EC will be increasingly a “particular” approach as more Christians find other ways to take ahold of evolution.

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Do you mean EC is less conservative than where they are, or less conservative than the label TE? If the former, I get that (i.e., if EC basically equates to BL’s approach. If the latter (i.e., EC less conservative than TE), then that would be new to me.

Yes I remember this, and thought it odd at the time that he was still using TE (or maybe was trying to use the old label for convenience).

No doubt. My whole intro into this was through BL, and it seemed they championed EC as a way to tie themselves closer to orthodoxy and evangelicalism (rightly or wrongly). I understood your objection to EC to be tied to not wanting to be equated with the BL approach.

This is some helpful background. It’s interesting that several years ago BL itself took, what seemed to be, a more conservative turn…at least that’s how I saw some of the changes of personnel and leadership. I never asked anyone about this, so I could be totally wrong.

As you know, I’m still friendly with BL. I’ve done some minor work for them over the years, sometimes reviewing articles or curriculum. I especially count Jim and Kathryn friends, and look forward to seeing them whenever I can. So my personal experience has been a lot more positive. This doesn’t make me blind to potential problems (especially for those in my conservative world), but have been thankful for their contributions.

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For me, this isn’t personal. It is about clear substantive issues (see for example here). I’ve had many positive experiences with them, but we have a very different (honestly, incompatible) sets of values. They also have a lot more power and a first-mover advantage.

I’m honestly thankful for their contributions too, which is why I worked with them back in 2016-2017. I stayed with them till they asked me to leave. I’m thankful for my time with them too, because it clarified that I really am not EC.

In the same way, I’m also thankful for a lot of work by LCSM Lutherans too, but that doesn’t make me a Lutheran. I really am not LCMS.

In the end, the rest of us may need other ways to engage with mainstream science. That is certainly true for many of the communities I engage with, not only conservative Christians, but also secular atheists. Instead of waiting for them to change, let them be EC, and let’s find other ways for the people who will never agree with BL to move forward regardless. That might be, in particular, why CASE and CAES are very important concepts for us to work out in the coming year.

At least privately, they have been very clear on their position and its limits. I want to respect their choices here.

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That is the narrative they want to have in public. Perhaps it is true in one sense too. Certainly, they are more “conservative” than Peter Enns and Karl Gibberson, but that isn’t saying much!

Perhaps that’s one reason why frank conversation has been difficult for them. What they actually are may not match how they want to be perceived. The way they managed this is by squashing dissent and maintaining a code of silence. But…that is something I was not willing to agree to…(ref: those conflicting values)…

Funny thing … I was just going to ask if you wanted a title. :slight_smile:

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Leave it to the has-been linguist to focus on the nit behind the pick by bold-facing the pronoun “that” in the acronym explanation above.

Assuming that none of the Christians affirming the Science of Evolution are inanimate objects, I greatly prefer “Christians who Affirm the Science of Evolution (or Evolutionary Science), CASE or CAES.”

Yes, I do realize that many traditional grammarians will say that this particular that is grammatically OK in this context because it refers to an entire “class or type of people.” Even so, I’ve found that in international and even American English discourse this technical distinction doesn’t change the fact that for many English speakers of recent generations it “just doesn’t sound right.” Accordingly, when I am editing manuscripts I find myself leaning towards what reads more smoothly for the most people.

I wouldn’t mention this at all if not for its likelihood of it appearing in future publications. Even so, other editors/proof-readers may well disagree with me on this. (I had a strict Turabian professor who would have said that the entire “class or type of people” should be somehow “official or organized” to allow the that pronoun assignment. If so, then I would maintain that “Christians” as a category/class/type is anything but organized.)

That said, I am probably more likely to say that I’m a Christian who affirms evolutionary biology.

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Okay. Point taken :slight_smile: . I can go with this change.

Seriously, I would be curious to know what today’s professional proofreaders would say in this context. (The grammatical distinction doesn’t matter much in this forum but in broader publication it might be a distraction to some readers if we are assumed ungrammatical.)

[I appended my original comment after a few minutes in order to acknowledge the traditional rule that might allow the “that” in the context. I just don’t know if the old rule is still observed by modern day grammarians.]

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Earlier, I was genuinely curious what various Christians thought of the term “theistic evolution” so thanks for all the feedback. I suspected it was too broad and/or too liberal.

It seems as if people are leaning towards more well defined and organized camps instead of a big tent. That’s not too different from Christianity itself with a spectrum of denominations meeting specific needs within the community. Do most people see this trend continuing where views towards science are more well defined with a diverse set of positions?


Mainly too broad, and not necessarily to liberal, because it is very broad!

That isn’t the best approach, in my opinion.

I’d hope we could all be in one camp, clear about our different views, but in a fun and wild conversation about our differences.

Right now, the only models for diversity in origins is conflicted debate or parallel monologue. Both those models are broken. I want understanding conversations across differences instead, true dialogue.


I agree with this.

I think it is a safe statement to make that BioLogos is often perceived as theologically on the liberal side, even if that does not reflect the intentions or the private beliefs of particular personnel. And I think that perception of theological liberalism has made many “borderline” evangelical/conservative Christians, who might be persuaded to accept evolution if they trusted that the purveyors of it were firmly orthodox/traditional in their theology, suspicious.

We know, of course, of many openly liberal assertions made in the past by Karl Giberson and Pete Enns, and we know that at least Enns and probably Giberson as well were asked to leave (as was Kenton Sparks), and Walton who replaced Enns seems more traditional in some respects (outside the question of evolution) than Enns was, but even among those who remain, the suspicion of liberalism has not been dispelled.

In the series on possible modes of divine action in evolution, a series run by Jim Stump which featured a number of “Christian views” on the subject, one of the views presented as a legitimate Christian view, by Oord, was outside of the pale of any historical Christian orthodoxy. I am not saying that Jim Stump is personally liberal or unorthodox, but the fact that he presented a manifestly heretical description of God as a possible option for Christian evangelicals would naturally raise questions.

As for the head of BioLogos, Deb Haarsma, I know little about her current theological beliefs, which she tends not to be explicit about, seeing her role more as a diplomat or organization person than as a promoter of a particular Christian theological view. I understand that her earlier publications of many years ago were more or less mainline conservative Reformed in their theology, but it’s impossible for me to tell from her statements as BioLogos head what she she thinks, beyond “I’m a Christian” and “evolution is true.” So she could be anywhere from conservative to liberal, and it would be hard to tell.

I remember that Ted Davis affirmed a historical resurrection without ambiguity, and that he ended up indicating at least some inclination toward a Russell-type scenario in which God actively steered (albeit in a way science can’t detect) evolution. I also remember that the people running BioLogos at that time (Stump and Kramer) expressed (polite) disagreement with such a traditional, ‘hands-on’ depiction of God’s activity. From the point of a view of a conservative/evangelical Christian who is unsure about evolution but willing to consider that it might be true, the position of Ted Davis would be more tempting, because it had God involved in the outcomes of evolution in a way that expressed classical divine sovereignty, whereas the vaguer, more hands-off role of God in evolution that Kramer and Stump appeared to be championing (I say appeared, because their position was not theoretically articulate enough to count as clear), did not sound like much of a role for the Creator.

Again, I make no judgment regarding the private beliefs of anyone at BioLogos. I’m noting how they appear to many of the “conservative evangelical” persuasion – even after jettisoning Giberson, Sparks, and Enns. Even some Christian scientists who accept evolution, such as Terry Gray (an orthodox Reformed person, theologically), stay away from BioLogos because they think that its theology is shaky. And if an evolution-accepting person like Gray thinks this about BioLogos, it is not surprising that many conservative evangelicals who are not yet sure they can accept evolution would be dubious as well. The fear would be that in accepting evolution they would also be accepting a liberal theology.

If there had ever been one uncompromisingly conservative (theologically speaking) leader on BioLogos – I mean in a position of authority, and not just as a columnist – that would have gone a long way toward dispelling such worries. But none of the Presidents, Vice Presidents, Heads of Web Contents, Head Moderators, etc. have appeared to represent conservative Christian theology (where I’m talking about theological views generally, without reference to evolution or origins specifically). The impression has always been one of theological fluidity (or less charitably, theological vagueness) and of a need to “update” Biblical exegesis and theology in light of modern thought. The organization has always come across as being a bunch of scientists who happen also to be evangelical Christians, and whose main focus is getting evangelical Christians to accept evolution, rather than as a group of orthodox evangelical Christians who accept evolution but whose main focus is to make sure that orthodox theology is not compromised by integrating the theory of evolution.


That’s the feeling I get as well.

Do you think there is anything that could bridge the gap between soft Old Earth Creationism and Evolutionary Creationism? GAE could be part of that bridge, but is there something else that would be helpful?

It is a very thin line between all of those positions. Although the following essay by Dennis Venema is about abiogenesis, it still applies to evolution:

To use an analogy, it is a bit like the moment when Heliocentrism was so obvious that it could no longer be denied. The first step was to accept that Heliocentrism is true or damage the faith by trying to cling to demonstrably false claims. The second step is figuring out how it fits into theology.

At least, that’s the impression I get.

In the sense you mean it, that is happening. What I observe is that OECs are seriously considering the idea of coming to terms with evolution, and the GAE certainly does help. However, they won’t do that at the cost of accepting the whole range of EC views.


Thanks for the irenic and dialogical response.

I think that among some “conservative” Christians (that term itself is of course capable of a wide range of meanings!) the view would be that God could have chosen to create through a process of evolution, and so the question is whether such a process of creation would be compatible with God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, providence, etc., and with an orthodox notion of Fall and Redemption. If the the answer to this question is “yes,” then some conservative Christians could be moved to accept evolution, provided the empirical evidence for it was in their view strong enough.

Of course, for those Christians who have already made up their mind that God could not have used evolution because the Bible, read literally-historically, does not allow it, then there will be no movement.

BioLogos chose the tactic – I think not the best – of trying to persuade conservative Christians to read the Bible differently in order to make room for evolution. I think a better tactic would have been to demonstrate that all the leaders of BioLogos were orthodox regarding God’s sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, the Fall, etc., and defer the Biblical exegesis questions until trust on that point had been built up.

But I suppose I was asking for the impossible, because the sort of people that founded BioLogos (Collins, Giberson, Falk) are not the sort of people whose Christianity is expressed in terms of systematic orthodox doctrine. They were mostly from Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pietist, Mennonite, etc. groups where there is very little interest in “confessional theology”, i.e., rational articulation of doctrine.
For most of them, Christianity means “Jesus as I personally interpret him when I read my Bible” and there is very little interest in comparing their own theological conclusions with the conclusions reached by Christian theologians over 2,000 years of theological reflection, to see whether their personal theologies are in fact orthodox or traditional. Repeated attempts on the BioLogos site to induce Haarsma, Applegate, Venema, Falk, Giberson, Ard Louis, etc. to discuss the thought of Calvin, or Luther, or Knox, or Hooker, etc. failed. Repeated attempts to discuss subjects such as sovereignty or providence failed. The BioLogos people just weren’t interested in discussing theology on that level. They were interested mainly in cobbling together some makeshift reading of Genesis and of Paul which would allow Christians to accept evolution. Science, not historical or systematic theology, was always their focus.

As for Venema’s comments, I agree that God can work directly or indirectly through natural processes, so there is no difference in principle between myself and Venema. In principle, we should consider both natural and non-natural explanations of origins. But there is a difference between us in what might be called religious or theological attitude. I think it’s clear that the folks at BioLogos have a preference (emotional, aesthetic, theological, or however you wish to characterize it) for explanations of origins in which there is a completely closed causal system starting with the Big Bang and ending up at man. They don’t deny that God could have created the first life by a miracle, but frankly, they don’t really like that option, and would be happier if an account could be given in which no miracle ever happened from the beginning of the universe up to the emergence of man. I think there are both theological reasons (connected with the change in Christian theology after the Enlightenment) and professional reasons (scientists don’t like untidiness, and if there are areas of origins that require miracles, that would be untidy) for this inclination of theirs. But whatever the reasons, there is no reason why the philosopher or theologian should rule out the possibility of miraculous activity when it comes to origins.

I understand why you use this analogy, but I don’t think it’s sound. It was never really part of Christian theology in the strict sense – the positions of the earth and sun etc. in the actual scheme of the cosmos. You can search the Creeds and the writings of the Fathers and you don’t find such things to be points of faith. Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, a fusion of Aristotelian and Biblical ideas came to be championed by some theologians and Church authorities, as if that fusion was Christianity itself. It took some disentangling for people to realize that the old scheme of the planets was not a required part of Christian doctrine.

In the case of evolution, the question is different. The question is whether an evolutionary process is compatible with God’s sovereignty, providence, omnipotence, etc., and whether it has any implications for the Fall and for human nature. And these subjects – sovereignty, Fall, human nature, etc. – are all subjects – unlike the geometry of the planets – on which orthodox Christian theology has issued doctrines, confessions, creeds, etc. So the theological focus has to be on showing that evolution is no threat to core Christian doctrines concerning God, Creation, and Salvation.

If the theological obstacles are cleared, then the scientific part – whether or not evolution happened, what all its mechanisms are – can be discussed without fear or panic. But the suspicion among a number of Christians has always been that evolution threatens not mere incidentals (such as which planet moves around which) but core doctrines regarding God and man. BioLogos has done an extremely poor job at reducing the anxiety of Chrstians on such points, and that is why it continues to be regarded with suspicion, not so much because it endorses evolution but because it appears to endorse evolution at any theological cost.

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