What the Lutheran Church (LCMS) Really Thinks About Evolution

What the Lutheran Church (LCMS) Really Thinks About Evolution

Even as my content and I have both changed and evolved over the years, I always end up finding my way back to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s teachings on creationism. I was raised in the LCMS and only once I left did I really delve into the details of their beliefs. While it can be frustrating to return to the doctrine of my old church, I think there is something enjoyable in refuting both LCMS doctrine and creationism in general.

It’s true that I have responded to many LCMS creation statements before. I’ve reviewed a magazine article by their president, booklets I found at my old church, a series by a theology professor, a video by a guest speaker at my old church, and a blog post by a pastor. The article I’m responding to today, however, seems to be the most official, representative idea of what they actually believe.

This article is “What About Creation and Evolution?” “What About?” is “a series of pamphlets that addresses doctrinal topics, moral issues, and concerns in the church to help Christians grow in their understanding of these important questions. The 27 pamphlets were written by Rev. Dr. A.L. Barry, former president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” Without further ado, let’s go! 

False dichotomies

Evolution: fact or theory?

So we’re off to a bad start, but I promise it will get even worse. I’ve already covered the confusion about the word “theory” in my post How to Refute 10 Common Misconceptions About Evolution, and boy, this LCMS article hits a lot of them. So as not to waste time, this table from that post will have to do.

Term in everyday languageEquivalent in scientific language
Explanation for observationTheory

Christians who by faith accept the truth of God’s Word about Creation . . . sometimes wonder how they can help others consider the possibility that there is a Creator.

My problem here it that there seems to be a great disconnect between their premise (that others can believe in a Creator) and the conclusion (accepting biblically literal, LCMS-approved creationism). I could call it a leap of faith, but it wouldn’t be a compliment. All I really see here is the false dichotomy that if one believes in a Creator then one must accept the story in Genesis. It comes off as somewhat arrogant to dismiss all of the other creation stories throughout the world and assume that the only one to accept is yours.

Misrepresenting Darwin and evolution

What is the point of Evolution? . . . Is this merely a scientific theory, or is there more? 

What do you mean, what’s the point? Can something not be believed simply because it is true? Do other scientific theories and laws get their own ulterior motive? What is the point of the laws of motion or the big bang theory? Oh, that one has an ulterior motive, too? I see. We can accept scientific theories and laws as long as you don’t perceive them as contradicting your denomination’s interpretation of the bible.

Darwin was fully aware that his idea was a frontal assault on the very notion of an intelligent Designer behind the world. In fact, he might very well have formulated it precisely for that purpose.

For context, this quote was taken from the article in the Creation Ministries International magazine called Darwin’s Real Message, Have You Missed It? by Carl Wieland. That article is essentially a summary of the points made by Stephen Jay Gould in this lecture and twisting them to paint Darwin as some conniving villain who invented evolution so that no one would believe in God anymore. Anyone who knows anything about Darwin would know that’s not who he was.

But even so, even if that was the origin story of popular belief in evolution, it would have no bearing on its truth. Evolution is true no matter who first proposed it or why, whether it confirms your firmly held religious beliefs or not. It doesn’t really care.

Evolutionary theory proposes that life forms start out at a very simple level and then, by natural selection, eventually become more and more complex as changes occur. However, biochemical and molecular biological research continues to gather convincing evidence that the living cell is totally useless unless, and until, it reaches its final form, and then, having reached that form, any change at all actually destroys, not enhances, its function. Darwin’s greatest challenge comes from the question of how the individual cell developed. Scientists studying this issue have described the living cell as “irreducibly complex.”

Evolutionary theory just states that changes will happen in a population over time due to natural selection. These changes can lead to more or less complexity, to features being added, altered, or even lost. Since organisms aren’t Pokémon or cartoon villains, they don’t have final forms, either. Mutations occur randomly between generations, but which ones can cause an organism to survive to reproduction age aren’t random; that’s literally why it’s called natural selection. If you’re the slowest gazelle in the herd, then the cheetah is going to naturally select you. Then your slowness is out of the gene pool.

The other problem with Barry’s statement is that he’s leaning on the old creationist trope of irreducible complexity. When he says that scientists use this term, it’s convenient that he doesn’t name anyone. I think he really just means that creationists use it, because I have never seen anyone else take the idea seriously, considering how much it’s been refuted. Irreducible complexity is simply an argument from personal incredulity and has no scientific basis. It’s purposely difficult to refute when those pushing it don’t give specific examples, but we have pretty good ideas of what most “irreducibly complex” mechanisms could have been used for before their current functions.

Ignoring science

The scientific literature is strangely silent when it comes to the question of how these molecular structures, the basis of life, developed. How could all this have evolved?

Scientific literature doesn’t discuss the origins of life? Do you think that scientists would just ignore one of the biggest biochemical questions of our day? Refusing to look up the scientific literature doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Proponents of Intelligent Design have made great headway in recent years. Their findings have added muscle to the long-held Creationist arguments on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which, simply put, says that the way of all things, both living and non-living, is to go from a state of order to various states of increasing disorder, not the other way around.

Simply put! How convenient that this is how you decided to simply put it. He’s right that this is a long-held creationist argument though; it’s held on far past being refuted again and again. It doesn’t mean they’re right, it just means they won’t stop saying it because they don’t have any better arguments that haven’t been refuted.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics “states that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted. The Second Law also states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.” What creationists can never quite grasp is that this law only applies in isolated systems. The Earth is not an isolated system, because it has outside energy—from the Sun— entering the system. Evolution doesn’t violate this law. Next.

Not even wrong

Other arguments being put forward are based on dubious dating-methods used by evolutionists, and on the fossil record—the latter still showing no conclusive transitional stages in types or kinds (one would think every fossil would show a transitional stage).

This is almost so wrong that it’s not even wrong. Which dating methods? They’re only dubious when creationists misapply them to dates that their methods of choice don’t work for. (This video is actually refuting Carl Wieland who we ran into earlier. Isn’t nature beautiful?)

As for the second quip about the fossil record, he’s definitely too wrong to even be wrong. Actually, he almost circled back around to being right. You see, every fossil is transitional between the generation that came before it and the one that came after it. And we do see transitional fossils connecting greater populations, like between fish and tetrapods, dinosaurs and birds, and apes and humans. I wish I could ask Barry what transitional fossil would convince him because I’m not sure what better evidence there could be outside of the unrealistic hope of finding the fossilized remains of every organism that has ever lived.

Actually responding to his asides is not even the point here, however. Barry is using what’s called a Gish gallop, named for his fellow creationist Duane Gish, in which one throws so many unrelated arguments at you that you can’t hope to respond to them all. If you miss one, and don’t refute it in detail, then you lose and creationism is automatically true. The issue is that each short comment that they make can be so wrong that the response can take pages. (Note how long this post is getting.)

In a way, it only shows the truth of evolution because it acknowledges that the evidence for evolution is so extensive and comes from so many different branches of science. The other good side, at least for me, is that to refute creationism I sometimes feel like I have to become a master of paleoanthropology, astronomy, biology, history, and more. I may not be an expert yet, but thanks to creationism I have an unquenchable appetite to learn about these topics. I have all day to respond to each and every one of their inane attempts to trip me up.

Evolutionists appear unwilling to address the findings of biochemistry and other related fields. They are quick to say they are defending science, yet when confronted by an Intelligent Design paradigm that explains the data better than their own (such as on the human eye, a bird’s wing or the processes of blood-clotting),they offer no scientific defense at all. Instead, they lash out, ridiculing the Intelligent Design paradigm as nothing more than “religious.”

It might not seem like I am addressing these points in the order in which they’re made, but I promise I am. This was thrown in directly after mentioning transitional fossils. At this point, I’m sure that creationists love irreducible complexity so much because they probably don’t see it refuted as much as it used to be. The argument has been made ad nauseum and we’ve refuted every example they’ve thrown at us. Some of us understandably don’t have the time or patience to repeat the same responses time and time again, so when we eventually stop responding, the creationists think we’ve given up. If it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have taken the irreducible complexity bait, either.

Is it religion or is it science?

Intelligent Design, on its own merits, can be argued effectively without a single reference to the Scriptures. This natural knowledge of a Creator is not the same as advancing a set of specific theological and doctrinal beliefs about that Creator.

I don’t have a real refutation of this idea that Intelligent Design is more legitimate if it tries to disguise itself as science rather than religion. I am, however, reminded of a couple of quotes from Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World in which he gets the point across better than I could.

“Faith is clearly not enough for many people. They crave hard evidence, scientific proof. They long for the scientific seal of approval, but are unwilling to put up with the rigorous standards of evidence that impart credibility to that seal.” p. 58

“By making pronouncements that are, even if only in principle, testable, religions, however unwillingly, enter the arena of science. Religions can no longer make unchallenged assertions about reality.” p. 227

Back to the article:

If evolutionists persist in saying that creation cannot be divorced from religion, then they themselves must be prepared to admit that their orthodoxy—that life in all its beauty, organization and complexity arose from random mutations and other Darwinian speculations—is just as dogmatic, just as much a religion, really, as what they scorn.

This concept is honestly so bad that I can barely wrap my head around it. We call their bible-based religion a religion and they say “I know you are, but what am I?” Barry has to be purposely making half-baked statements that we can’t respond to because no one knows how he reached his conclusions or what exactly he means by them.

Mastering intellectual dishonesty

If Creation is theistic, calling for an intelligent, purposeful Author of Life, then naturalistic Evolution is atheistic, denying the existence of that Author and any supernatural acts wrought by His hand.

In the words of the authors of another page refuting this article, “this is probably the most honest and secular pro-creationist statement in existence.” That is to say that Barry is pulling all the classic stops and not at all trying to hide his ignorance. This is obviously a giant false dichotomy, and I think that the entire thing hinges on his use of the word “naturalistic.” It would fall apart if he had just said, “If Creation is theistic, then Evolution is atheistic,” since that does not follow at all. Evolution is only naturalistic because he presupposed that it was naturalistic without ever giving thought to the millions of people who easily see evolution as theistic.

On the blackboards of America’s public-school science classrooms, and in the pages and on the screens of the media, the time has come for the words “Evolution,”“naturalism” and “neo-Darwinism” to make room for “Intelligent Design.” Anything less, based on the evidence, would be intellectually dishonest.

Creationists talking about intellectual dishonesty! These people are insufferable.

It would be a mistake on our part to think that simply by presenting the evidence for Intelligent Design, a person will become a Christian. Believing that God is our loving heavenly Father who created the heavens and the earth is an article of faith. Believing that there is an intelligent designer is a far cry from believing that we are sinful human beings in need of a Savior and then trusting in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is our Savior from sin, death and the power of Satan. Such a living hope is a gift of God, given by the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of scientific study or analysis. Faith is as miraculous an event in our life as is God’s work of Creation in the world. In fact, it is no accident that those who are in Christ are called “new creations”(2 Cor.5:17).

It seems here that Barry is saying that to be convinced of creationism is a matter of logic which does not lead anyone to becoming an LCMS Christian. That is outside the realm of logic and it requires faith. I think this is actually what he was getting at in the second quote I shared, but it was too muddled to really make sense. It certainly aligns with the many instances I’ve seen of Lutheran pastors and others readily admitting that evolution and creationism is not their strength. The LCMS focuses a lot more on the Gospels, who Jesus was/is, and how to get to heaven.

Regardless, when you have a belief system that happily ties itself, through articles like this, to such a convoluted, unsupported, and yet confident view of the world like young-earth creationism, you have to be ready to either defend it or abandon it. Time and time again, the LCMS makes endless contradictory statements on a topic they can’t agree on because they can’t make it fit within their restrictive worldview.

4 thoughts on “What the Lutheran Church (LCMS) Really Thinks About Evolution

  • January 2, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    That argument (in the linked magazine article) is amazingly bad.

    Back when I was a Christian, I did not have any problems with the idea of a creator God. Yet I could still see that the Genesis account of origins was rubbish.

    Night and day before there was a sun; the sky as a solid ceiling.

    These people are so hung up on their hatred for evolution, that they do not notice the glaring problems.

    One can appreciate the poetic elegance of Genesis 1, while still noticing that it paints a very primitive and false picture.

  • January 2, 2022 at 7:10 pm

    Nice to see them doubling and tripling down on stupidity. Oof.

  • January 3, 2022 at 3:12 am

    “Proponents of Intelligent Design have made great headway in recent years.”
    This is simply not true. Why should I trust – or even pay attention to – a document that violates one of its own doctrines and bears false witness? Anyone who makes this claim is not to be taken seriously.

    “dubious dating-methods”
    A pity that the statement doesn’t make the historical/operational science dichotomy, claiming that the LCMS accepts the latter. Maybe you can find it, I know nearly zilch about the LCMS. According to their own definitions those dating-methods totally belong to operational science. Still they reject it and there can be only one reason for it. The document gives it itself:

    “Evolution cannot be “baptized”to make it compatible with the Christian faith.”
    There you are. Creationists (and not only they; there are way too many atheists who do the same) want science to be subordinate to their belief system (in case of atheists their secular counterpart). Notice that “Faith can or cannot being “baptized” to make it compatible with evolution theory (or any other scientific theory)” doesn’t make any sense. Science doesn’t care.

  • January 3, 2022 at 3:24 am

    “Evolution is only naturalistic because he presupposed that it was naturalistic”
    Initially I missed this one. You should not make the mistake apologists love to make: equating methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. Science uses the first and is silent on the second (that topic belongs to philosophy). Evolution is naturalistic, because like all science it limits itself to explaining evidence, which by definition is naturalistic. However evolution doesn’t say anything about a supposed supernatural reality.
    The reason this is is important is because it makes clear that the problem is with believers (and not only creationists). Some or many of them make claims about our natural reality that straight out contradict scientific conclusions. Their idea that that is even possible is based on the false assumption that theology trumps science. The document itself shows why it’s false: we have a YECer who promotes ID (which accepts the Big Bang and deep time …..).
    However we should not forget that many dualist scientists have made important contributions. The famous Kitzmiller trial was not christianity against atheism. Both key witness Kenneth Miller and judge Jones are practising christians. They are totally OK with methodological naturalism, but reject philosophical naturalism, ie the idea that our natural reality is all there is.


What do you think?