Review: Evolution, Scripture, and Science


Evolution, Scripture, and ScienceB. B. Warfield (Edited by Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone). Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2019 (originally published in 2000).

Summary: A collection of the writings of B.B. Warfield consisting of lectures, articles, and reviews showing his engagement with evolutionary writers and his conviction that scripture and science need not be in conflict.

B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) was know as a staunch advocate of the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of the Bible, and as a “Princeton theologian,” trained by Charles Hodge. What is lesser known was that he closely followed the scientific literature of his day concerning the developing theory of evolution and did not see that evolution and scripture inherently in conflict.

Mark Noll and David N. Livingstone have collected the writings of Warfield on the subject of evolutionary science. This includes lectures, articles, and excerpts from Warfield’s own writings as well as numerous reviews of articles and books by various writers on the subject. There are several things that impress me about Warfield:

  1. He both affirms the truthfulness of the Genesis accounts but is open to interpretations that do not insist on literal days, or use genealogical records to date when Adam was created.
  2. He insists on ex nihilo creation of the stuff of the cosmos, allows for providentially guided development, but insists on the creation of the human soul.
  3. His views develop over the course of his life. At one point, while allowing for evolutionary development under God’s providence, he advocated mediate creation. Later, after studying Calvin, he abandoned the idea of mediate creation and allowed for development and speciation.
  4. At the same time, he was willing to both affirm and critique various aspects of the writers of his day. His big issues were not evolution per se, but rather evolutionism that denied God’s providential involvement and the idea of randomness that denied teleology, the evidence of purpose in the development of life.
  5. He is, if anything more challenging in his remarks on theological writers when they deviate from orthodoxy than with science writers.
  6. He is unwilling to accept the fact/value dichotomy. He insists that theology and biology are both sciences, both are concerned with facts. Theology cannot be relegated to the subjective world of faith and emotion.

The editors provide an excellent essay on Warfield as a “conservative evolutionist.” Also each of the works are preceded by a brief summary.

It is sad that Andrew Dickson White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology shaped the public conception about Christianity’s response to evolutionary theory and science more generally, one sadly that even many Christians have adopted. Warfield called White’s work “special pleading,” projecting present controversies into a past when Christians were on the forefront of science and saw their investigations as giving glory to God, studying his revelation in the books of scripture and nature. It is sad that Warfield’s ideas did not gain greater currency in the culture and in the church.

At very least, this collection suggests that thoughtful Christians with a high view of scripture need not be at war with science. The state of evolutionary theory is far advanced from the time of Warfield and the discussions concern discarded aspects of the theory. Nevertheless, the model of respectful engagement, a theologian abreast with scientific research, a foundation of conviction with an openness to grow all commend Warfield as a model for those who would engage discussions between scripture and science. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for re-printing this work and keeping it in circulation.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.