Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Note on Warfield and Evolution

It has been brought to my attention that in my post Were Warfield and Machen Reformed? I mistakenly attributed to Gary Johnson a quote that was actually from Peter Barnes, who was responding to Gary Johnson. My apologies to both parties for my error. I have revised my post accordingly.

Let me clarify that Gary Johnson ("In Defence of Warfield", The Banner of Truth, Aug-Sept 2009, 55-61) disputes the claim that Warfield was a theistic evolutionist.
He contends that Warfield affirmed the historicity of the Genesis account of creation—particularly the special creation of Adam and Eve-- and repeatedly castigated Darwinism, although Warfield did acknowledge micro-evolution. Peter Barnes, on the other hand, argues that Warfield was open to some form of theistic evolution, although Warfield wasn’t convinced that evolution had been proven true.

Further light on this question is shed by Fred G. Zaspel in his useful article “B. B. Warfield on Creation and Evolution” in Themelios (Volume 35, Issue 2,July 2010).

According to Zaspel:
Warfield did claim to have accepted the theory of evolution in his youth, but he then rejected it early in his career. Thereafter he remained open to the possibility of it and affirmed that Scripture could accommodate it, if it were to be proven true, but he himself continued to reject the theory.

Warfield viewed evolution as a scientific conjecture that had not yet been proven true; a final verdict would have to await  the theory passing further scientific tests.

Although Warfield rejected pure Darwinism, he was open to a modified, theistic evolution. Zaspel writes:

Evolution cannot account for the arrival of matter; within matter it cannot account for the arrival of living beings; it cannot account for the human soul, the human mind, self-consciousness, sin, or the afterlife; and it cannot account for the incarnation of Christ. All of these require a supernatural act of God producing something absolutely new. But with this said, Warfield allows that a Christian as such has “no quarrel with evolution when confined to its own sphere as a suggested account of the method of the divine providence.” It should be noted here that Warfield speaks of the Christian accepting evolution as a “suggested” account of the divine providence. This is the position he maintained throughout his career. Kept in its own place, evolution is not necessarily incompatible with Scripture, if at some point it might be demonstrated to be true.

Warfield did insist that God's written word was to have priority over any scientific "discoveries". Biblical authority must be upheld. Nevertheless, Zaspel quotes Warfield:

"But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new, i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions, we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense."

Zaspel comments,
But just as important to us in discerning Warfield’s own view is his next statement: “I say we may do this. Whether we ought to accept evolution, even in this modified sense, is another matter, and I leave it purposely an open question.

In short, whereas Warfield  was open to evolution in principle, he stopped short of actually affirming it; he remained non-committal.
*****

5 comments:

  1. John,
    I wonder what Warfield's written opinion on the age of the earth was, and whether he saw the connection between evolution and 'deep time'? Did he write anything as to the question of the 'age' of the earth? He must surely have been aware of the writings of Hutton, Lyell, Lord Kelvin, John Joly, and the thinking of the modern geologists on the Continent, and the nascent field of radioactivity in the early 1900's, with the concept of 'isotopes' as put forward by Frederick Soddy and it's implications for the 'age' question. Was he 'non-committal' here as well?

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  2. Hi Steve

    According to Warfield, the Bible has nothing to say about the chronology from Creation to Abraham. This is a purely scientific matter.

    For example, he held that the genealogies of Gen.5&11 contained numerous gaps and might well cover 2000 generations instead of the 20 listed. See "http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Antiquity_and_the_Unity_of_the_Human_Race

    Thus he was prepared to accept mainstream science on questions of the ages of the earth and man, although he did comment that much of this was still highly speculative.

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  3. Hi John,
    Yes, it seems that there are some references to Warfield's opinion here. I found the web page www.americanpresbyterianchurch.org and it's first page article on 'B.B. Warfield and Evolution', in which the writer is discussing Warfield's view through an analysis of Noll and Livingstone as editors of 'B.B. Warfield, Evolution, Science and Scripture, Selected Writings.' The writer of the article on this link is not named but does say that "Warfield also wrote concerning the corollary issues of the age of the earth and the age of man upon it. First of all, he was willing to accept some kind of day-age theory that would reconcile the Biblical days of creation with the vast geologic ages postulated by evolutionary science."

    I went to Amazon and the book by Noll and Livingstone is selling 'used' for around $50. Not sure when it was written, but you seem to have other sources for your conclusions?

    I suppose it can be said that Warfield was not 'non-committal' here then and failed to see the connection. On evolution he was non-committal, but on the age of the earth and man he was committed to accepting the scientific conclusions.

    I'll check your link to wikisource. Thanks.

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  4. Hi John,
    In reading Warfield's article in the Princeton Theological Review of Jan. 1911, 'On the Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race' (the link you provided, and subsequent link to that link on the Princeton Theological Seminary 'digital library'), it is clear that he was very aware of the geological writings of his time and the previous century, and the debates in geology and biology that were ongoing.

    His discussion on the chronogenealogies of Gen. 5 and 11 is unfortunately where he gets derailed I think. That he specifically does not equate the genealogies to chronology, disparaging the work of Ussher and Petau, is very interesting for a lot of reasons. Of course he wasn't party to the critical analyses of radiometric dating, and unaware of the unproven assumptions of vast geological ages, but it illustrates that even a spiritual giant like Warfield who uncritically accepts forensically based, not observationally based scientific conclusions, can err.

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  5. Hi John,
    Correction:
    To my post above concerning the APC, www.americanpresbyterianchurch.org, the article on 'B.B. Warfield and Evoution' and the discussion concerning the book edited by Noll and Livingstone, can be found under the tab 'Science Articles', and not on the homepage.

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