Is Evolution Compatible with the Bible?

This is an excerpt from “Lesson 4: Adam, Eve, & the First Sin” from the Is Genesis History? Bible Study.

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The evolutionary history of the world teaches that all living creatures are the result of common descent from a single-celled ancestor which lived billions of years ago. This view says that the slow process of random mutations alongside natural selection produced all the life we see around us including human life.

The majority of those who hold this view would consider themselves atheistic or agnostic evolutionists.

Since the time of Charles Darwin, however, some Christians have tried to merge evolutionary theory with the actions of the God of the Bible. They say that God used the process of evolution to create all living organisms. Although His involvement with evolution is scientifically indiscernible, it is necessary both in terms of the original creation of single-cell life and the ongoing evolutionary development of living creatures.

Those who hold this view are called theistic evolutionists.

Recently, theistic evolution has grown in popularity due to its acceptance by some leading evangelical pastors and theologians. They would assert that Genesis 1 does not refer to six normal days of creation, and that the flood recorded in Genesis 6-8 was a local, rather than global, event. Furthermore, they would say that God used evolutionary processes to create everything that has ever lived on the earth.  

An important aspect of theistic evolution is their assertion that there were humans or human-like creatures on the earth along with Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. One of the observations they make in regard to Genesis 4 is the presence of other people at the time Cain killed Abel. They say these people are testimony to other humans that had evolved along with Cain and Abel.

Who are the other people Cain is referring to in Genesis 4?

When we look at the Pentateuch, Moses was often sparse in historical details. He does, however, often provide explanations for certain situations that a closer reading provides. In other words, the evolutionary interpretation is unnecessary when one reads Genesis 4 and 5 together.

In Genesis 4, after Cain kills Abel, he voices to God his fear of others finding and killing him. In other words, he is fearful of blood retribution, something common throughout all cultures of the world even up to the present. Where did these people come from? They were other descendants of Adam and Eve, since it appears Cain murdered Abel over a century after they had been born. Note that:

  1. Adam does not have Seth until he is 130. (Gen 5:3) Since Seth is the replacement for Abel, it makes sense that Adam and Eve had him soon after Abel was killed, as Eve explains: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” (Gen 4:25) This puts both Cain and Abel potentially over 100 years old each when Abel died.
  2. Cain and Abel would have married their sisters in order to have children. This had not yet been forbidden by God, possibly because there were no major genetic mutations so near the Fall. In time, cousins would have married cousins resulting in many hundreds of people in the world (if not more) by the time of the first murder. The reason Cain would have been scared of these people is that some would have been related to Abel (perhaps even his sons) and would therefore have had a good reason to kill him in retribution for their kinsman’s death.
  3. Biblical authors follow a pattern of stating only what is necessary for advancing their point rather than giving an exhaustive history. The gospel writers write in the same manner, in some instances omitting people and events included by other gospel authors.

In light of this, there is a more textually-consistent explanation for the people living in the world when Cain killed Abel than resorting to theistic evolution to explain their presence.

Comparing Genesis & Evolution

Nevertheless, the pressure to accept the conventional history of the world and its evolutionary processes is compelling to some Christians. Let’s ask a few additional questions in regard to it:

Why is the conventional, evolutionary view of history incompatible with the history recorded in Genesis?

  • According to Genesis, God created animals, birds, and plants fully-formed and unique as “created kinds.” Although there is great genetic potential for change within kinds, created kinds themselves are distinct. According to theistic evolution, there is a long, progressive connection of all living creatures that can be represented in one tree of life.
  • According to Genesis, Adam was immediately made in the image of God, and Eve was made from Adam; both of them were created fully-formed. Mankind therefore occupies a unique position in the creation and has no direct relationship to any other created kinds. According to theistic evolution, however,  man is just a higher-order primate, directly related to other modern primates through an extinct common ancestor.
  • According to Genesis, death entered the world with the sin of Adam. This means there was no death in the world prior to Adam’s sin. Yet, according to theistic evolution, death was an essential part of the world prior to Adam’s sin. As a necessary part of natural selection, death is one of the mechanisms necessary for the evolution of all species.

Of course, it is not only Genesis that states this, but New Testament authors confirm and expand on the history recorded in Genesis.

What does Paul say about Adam and Eve that can be applied to questions of theistic evolution?

  1. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” (1 Tim 2:13-14)
  2. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:12-14 – note that Paul identifies the reign of death starting with Adam)
  3. “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor 15:45 – note Paul is quoting Genesis 2:7 as an historical authority)
  4. “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:47)

What does Jesus say about Adam and Eve that can be applied to questions of theistic evolution?

  1. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,…” (Matt 19:4 – note that Jesus quotes Genesis 1 as a historical authority)
  2. “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” (Mark 10:6 – parallel passage, but different wording)

In spite of these statements, some still argue that Paul and Jesus were speaking within the cultural, scientific, and historical context that they knew. This argument, of course, can be applied in reverse to those who are speaking within their contemporary cultural, scientific, and historical context to reinterpret Jesus and Paul.

Instead, as these examples show, there is a reliance upon the witness in Genesis by both Jesus and Paul as historically authoritative and thus providing limits on what actually happened. The principle of scripture interpreting scripture must be applied here: Jesus and Paul establish that the normal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 as the instantaneous creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans is the accurate interpretation. These verses tell us that death entered the world with Adam, and that the creation was only cursed after that.

In sum, there is simply no way to merge theistic evolution with the witness of Scripture as to what actually happened in history. They are incompatible.

This article and more are part of the Is Genesis History? Bible Study