Denis Lamoureux, PhD, DDS Theologian-Scientist
- Professor of Science & Religion; Research Associate in Paleontology
- Three earned doctoral degrees: DDS (Dentistry, University of Alberta, 1978 ), PhD (Theology, University of St. Michael’s College, 1991), PhD (Biology, University of Alberta, 1997)
- Author of Evolution:Scripture and Nature Say Yes!(2016, Zondervan)
- Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) “Science & Religion 101” on the Coursera platform (2017), https://www.coursera.org/learn/science-and-religion-101
- “What’s Behind It All?” Debate with Stephen Meyer and Lawrence Krauss at University of Toronto (2016), https://www.youtube.com/wv=mMuy58DaqOK
- TEDx Talk “Beyond the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate” (2014), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaeGfV-N2kM
- “Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution” (2010), https://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Lamoureux_Scholarly_Essay.pdf
Coming to Terms with Evolution: A Personal Story
For the first twenty years of my adult life, I struggled with the issue of biological evolution. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended good Catholic schools. Upon entering a major public university, my very first biology course was on evolution. The underlying message throughout this class was quite clear. Life originated only through natural processes that were the result of irrational necessity and blind chance. Accordingly, there was no hint of ultimate plan or purpose in the universe. I knew that the Bible stated the world was created in six days, but I was being shown scientific evidence that life had evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Being a science student, I was also indoctrinated into believing that only science could explain reality, and only science could offer solutions to all our problems. Religion was viewed as an antiquated form of thinking and no one with a university education could possibly believe in God. By the end of this thirteen week course, I came to what I thought was a completely reasonable conclusion: Evolution is true, and therefore the Bible must be false and so too Christianity.
Of course, there was a serious problem in the way I approached the topic of origins. I was trapped in a simplistic dichotomy. Like most people around me at that time, I assumed that one is either on the so-called “side of science” with the solid evidence for evolution, or on the “side of religion” with the Genesis 1 account of creation in six literal days. Entrenched in this “either/or” way of thinking, I was not aware that there was an intellectually credible middle ground position on origins between evolution and creation.
It is worth noting that though I had rejected the God of Christianity by the end of my first term of university, I did not become an atheist. I still believed in some sort of nebulous deity. In fact, I had a “god-of-the-emergencies” to whom I would pray on occasions to save me from the consequences of my foolish behavior. But in reality, I lived as if this god did not exist and my lifestyle was marked by selfishness and godless excesses. I then moved on to dental school and wobbled between belief in this vague god and periods of agnosticism, not knowing whether or not he existed. Near the end of my training as a dentist I finally became an atheist. I remember being quite cynical and thinking that humans were nothing but animals and an unintended spin-off of a random evolutionary process. And for me, this atheistic view of evolution led to a life with no ultimate meaning and no moral boundaries. In particular, the way I mistreated women was shameful.
Though dental school was a very bleak spiritual period during my life, the Lord did reach out to me through some of my classmates who were evangelical Christians. They often shared their faith with me, and I even found their reasons for believing in God and Jesus to be persuasive. But more importantly, it was their godly lifestyle that impacted me more than any argument for Christianity. At the time I could not articulate it, but I wanted what they had. In my heart of hearts, I yearned for God and I also yearned for holiness. But the issue of evolution was a stumbling block, since most of these classmates were anti-evolutionists. Once again the origins dichotomy appeared in my life, forcing me to assume that I had only two choices: science and evolution, or religion and creation.
I graduated from dental school and started serving a four-year commitment with the military. One of my first postings was to the island of Cyprus as a United Nations peacekeeper. At the time I had this feeling of uneasiness and restlessness deep inside my soul. There was also an emptiness in my heart and a distinct sense of being “unclean” because of my lifestyle. But thanks to the grace of God, and in answer to the prayers of my mother, I returned to my Christian faith through reading the Gospel of John. The Word of God slowly cleansed me of my sins and led me into freedom from my godless lifestyle. Over this six month tour of duty I had been born again (John 3:3). Indeed, the military peacekeeper met the Prince of Peace!
But there is more to my story. I returned to Canada and started to attend an evangelical church. Most of the people in my church were entrenched in the origins dichotomy and believed in young earth creation. This view of creation is based on a strict literal reading of the Genesis 1 creation account and it contends that the world was created in six literal days about six thousand years ago. It is also known as “creation science.” I was still trapped in this crude dichotomy, and since I lost my boyhood faith because of evolution, it was not long before I was a card-carrying (and fire-breathing!) young earth creationist. In fact, like many in my church, I believed that Satan was the originator of evolution. I became obsessed with the issue of origins and by the time I had finished my military commitment, I decided that the greatest thing I could do in the Kingdom of God was to become a creation scientist to attack evolutionists in public universities.
To follow this vision, I realized that I needed more university training. So I planned to do two PhDs—one in theology focusing on the biblical creation accounts, and one in biology dealing with the evolution of teeth and jaws. By being both a theologian and scientist I reasoned that I would be more than equipped “to fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 1:18) against Satan and his evolutionist disciples. As my diary reveals on the first day of graduate school in theology, “The Grand Plan: Declare absolute and pure hell on the ‘theory’ of evolution” (30 Aug 1984).
But my plan soon came under attack. I attended an excellent evangelical seminary with some of the most important evangelical theologians in the world, and it wasn’t long before I realized that noneof them were young earth creationists. Needless to say, I was shocked! And I fought hard against all my professors. But they were gracious and more than patient with me, and eventually I came to the conclusion that the Bible is not a book of science. For example, Holy Scripture features an ancient understanding of nature known as “the 3-tier universe” shown in this diagram with supporting biblical verses:
It became painfully obvious to me that Genesis 1 could not be a literal and scientific account of how the world was made, because we do not live in a 3-tier universe. At that time one of my theology professors introduced me to George Eldon Ladd’s insightful aphorism. “The Bible is the Word of God written in the words of men in history.” In other words, Scripture does indeed contain the “very words of God” (Rom 3:2), but these words were cast within the context of ancient times. According to this understanding of the Bible, the Holy Spirit accommodated when He inspired the biblical authors by coming down to their intellectual level. In this way, God used what could be termed an “ancient science” as a vessel to reveal inerrant spiritual Truths in Genesis 1. This is similar to manner in which the Lord meets us wherever we happen to be in our life. As a result, the science-of-the-day in this first chapter of Scripture delivers the life-changing Messages of Faith that God is the Creator of the entire world (v. 1), the creation is very good (v.31), and humans are created in the Image of God (v.27). Thanks to theology school I was freed from the chains of young earth creation and using the Bible like a book of science.
After finishing a PhD in theology, I still did not believe in biological evolution. So I entered a second PhD program to study dental evolution, since I had a dentistry background. As most know, the fossils of teeth and jaws are some of the best evidence for evolution. My plan was to “fly under the radar” and collect evidence to attack evolution, which I would publish after graduation. Well, you can probably imagine what happened. After seeing the scientific evidence day-in-and-day-out for three and one-half years, and trying my best to construct an anti-evolutionary scientific theory, I came to the conclusion nearly every scientist comes to: the evidence for biological evolution is simply OVERWHELMING. As a 2014 Pew Research Center survey reveals, 98%of American scientists accept that “humans and other living things have evolved over time.”
During my PhD in dental evolution I also studied developmental biology. An amazing aspect of this science was discovering the incredibly complex concert of finely coordinated biochemical reactions during the development of various organisms. This scientific evidence filled my soul with awe and offered many reflections of intelligent design. Not only do “the heavens declare the glory of God,” as stated in Psalm 19:1, but so too do all these biological processes in the formation of plants and animals. And this experience led to me to recognize an important analogy between evolutionary biology and developmental biology that completely freed me from my anti-evolutionism.
As Christians, we believe that we were created in our mother’s womb through natural developmental processes. None of us thinks that our Creator intervened dramatically to attach a leg or an arm to our developing body. Instead, we believe that the Lord “knits” us together to be “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139:13-14 reveals. I would say this is also the case with biological evolution. It is the Creator’s “knitting process” that He used to create all the God-glorifying living organisms that have ever lived on earth. In this way, allnatural processes in both developmental biology and evolutionary biology belong to the Lord because He ordained them into existence and He has sustained them throughout time.
Now it is important to mention to you that once I accepted biological evolution, my love for Jesus and Scripture did not change at all. In fact, the Jesus I served as a young earth creationist is the same Jesus I serve today as an evangelical theologian and evolutionary scientist. As Isaiah 40:6 states, “The Word of God stands forever,” and Hebrews 13:8 reveals, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” If anything has changed, my education in theology has assisted me to be more focused on the inerrant, life-changing spiritual Truths in the Bible. Similarly, I have a much greater appreciation for the countless reflections of intelligent design in nature after having studied evolutionary biology.
I like to use the term “evolutionary creation” to describe my view of origins. Briefly defined, evolutionary creationists like me believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligently designed evolutionary process. This term became popular during the mid-1990s as part of an effort to distinguish evangelical Christians who accept biological evolution from a variety of liberal theisms that are often categorized under the general term “theistic evolution,” such as panentheism and process theism. In particular, evolutionary creationists believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. We also believe that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins and that He rose bodily from the grave. And by His grace, the Lord offers us salvation and the hope of eternal life (Acts 2:21, 4:12; Rom 10:9).
Currently, most of my time is spent teaching and researching on the relationship between Christianity and evolutionary biology. Many of my Christian students continue to be indoctrinated in the origins dichotomy through their churches, Christian schools, and the culture at large. But intuitively they sense there has to be a midway position, and it’s my privilege to show them a variety of ways to embrace both traditional Christian faith and modern science, including biological evolution. I also keep my hand in some dental evolution projects in the paleontology department at my university. It is always a delight to examine some of God’s creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Indeed, I am a blessed man in being what is known as a “Two Books Christian” and having the privilege of studying both the Book of God’s Words and the Book of God’s Works.