Search This Blog

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Creation-Evolution debate - all in one blog

Someone recently asked me for advice on how to negotiate the big bad (or at least big hot) world of the Creation-Evolution debate. Instead of an e-mail to one person, here goes a blog to two... 

Love before Knowledge
You can know lots of stuff, but if you don't have love, you are nothing. That's what Paul says and that's the starting point for this blog. Genuine Christians are to be found on both sides of this debate (I mean by genuine, Christians who are orthodox in their doctrine, believe in atonement and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and so on); so even if we think the other side are completely wrong (and both can't be right), we are to love one another.

The two Camps
OK, so first there are the 'theistic evolutionists'. They believe that God is the Creator of all things (you can't be an orthodox Christian without that basic tenet), but that he employed the process of evolution and the remarkable laws of nature to create. So first God used the Big Bang to bring about the basic structure of the universe, then planets formed around stars in a natural evolutionary process and finally life evolved on earth by natural processes. The Genesis account is not designed to be a historical retelling; it is more poetry than narrative.  I'll critique this view in a moment.  

There are actually many positions, but for the sake of simplicity let's keep it to two camps.

 Camp Two are the 'creationists'. They take Genesis literally and insist on a 6-day creation approximately 10,000 years ago. They critique the 14 billion year age of the universe and 4 billion year age of the earth, and critique the power of evolution to accomplish anything except tiny little changes in an organism. 

Before we critique the Camps
Some of the most important doctrines of Genesis 1-3 are these:
  1. God alone is the Creator of all things, seen and unseen (Genesis 1:1)
  2. There was a beginning to the universe (God alone is eternal, not matter)
  3. Only mankind is made in God's image (consequently there is an-almost infinite gap between animal and humans - in spite of every unsuccessful attempt to ape mankind). Mankind is therefore absolutely unique and precious, bearing the image of God. No animal compares to man in splendour and glory - something it takes but three seconds to prove upon comparison of any animal to man.
  4. God created mankind heterosexual, male and female, Adam and Eve
  5. Men and women are different, there is male Adam, and female Eve
  6. There is a divine order between the sexes, Adam was created first, Eve was created second
  7. The fall of Genesis 3 has messed up everything, most of all our relationship with God: we now hide from him and suppress the truth about him, and are in desperate need of a Saviour
Could it be a subtle tactic of Satan to get Christians to fight over the details, when it is teachings 1-7 that are really under attack in our culture today?

We are facing a tide of homosexual sin, and out-of-wedlock sin, the former being justified as 'natural' (Genesis says it's not the way God made us) the latter is being justified as the excusable spin off from the evolutionary pressure to sire as many offspring as possible in order to survive. Our law-makers are increasingly taking into account the 'rights' of animals - because we are considered a species just as they are. The same law-makers are devaluing unborn life, because it is only 'animal'.

We need to realize that the most important truths that emerge from Genesis 1-3 are not scientific ones.

Don't brothers and sisters in both camps agree on more (e.g. 1-7) than they disagree on? Let's fight the true enemy folks. 

A word about Genesis
My first instinct about the book of Genesis is to assume it is all historical narrative. That's what we have in most of Genesis, in the stories of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. But I have to acknowledge that there are indications in Genesis 1, only chapter 1, that we have here 'elevated prose' if not poetry, rather than straight historical narrative. For example, there are repeating words and phrases such as "there was evening and morning the X day". There is a similarity between days 1 & 4, 2 & 5, 3 & 6. These sorts of  rhythm/pattern indicators surely point to at least some uncertainty in how we must interpret that chapter.

A word about Science
Before we move to a critique, a word about the nature of science:
  1.  Science is governed by paradigms. The nature of the human mind is such that we cannot abide a collection of isolated facts - we must integrate them into a theory, a paradigm, a way of viewing them. We simply can't help this. 
  2. Paradigms change. But because the data base changes, inevitably the theory you come up with will be subject to change. One paradigm or theory will give way to another over time. In the 20th century, for example, two major scientific paradigms changed. Plate tectonics became the dominant way of understanding the structure of the earth (rather than the drying apple, shrinking skin idea) and in cosmology the eternal universe which never changes (the steady state theory) gave way to the Big Bang theory (universe had a beginning). 
  3. Don't buy into any paradigm. Since paradigms change, it is unwise to buy into any of them. Listen to them, appreciate them,  but you'd be a historical fool to say "this is the truth". Anyone who has read science books even a brief century old will know not to make this mistake. Think of it like this: the dots (facts) on the painting are often credible, but the joining up of the dots, the picture, the paradigm, may be seriously wrong because more dots (facts) may turn up which change that 'hand' into a  'wing'.
  4. There are two kinds of science: historical and operational, and the former MUST be led by philosophical considerations. Some people don't like this, but it's true. Historical science is all science which deals with the past. You weren't there, nor was I, so we need to make some assumptions. And guess what, those assumptions are informed by your philosophy, and in particular your assumptions about God. Example. Where did all living things come from? Let's suppose you don't believe there is a God, then you have only one source - matter plus the laws of physics plus time somehow resulted in life. Excluding God gives you no other options, except agnosticism
  5. In the area of historical science,  we must acknowledge the powerful influence of doctrine (7) above. If mankind now naturally suppresses the knowledge of God (Romans 1 &2), then we cannot expect an unbelieving science to acknowledge for one moment, the existence of an intelligent designing hand in creation. Though it may be plain to see, it will be radically denied. 
  6. Science is a western god - that's why so many people believe it. Because it has so successfully given us a thousand comforts and helps (though these have more come from its daughter technology) science has been granted the status of a "God" in western culture. All cultures worship gods, and ours happens to have a  suite of minor and major ones (other ones include Knowledge, Pleasure, Democracy, etc.). What's true of science is true of scientists: they are the high priests of our culture. One Chinese scientist was critiquing Darwin in an English university. He was surprised at the gasps of horror! "In my country, we can criticize Darwin but not the government" he said, "in your country you can criticize the government but not Darwin." Why not? Because science and scientists are the modern day gods. 
  7. The Bible and the book of nature must agree. Since both come from God,they must say the same thing. If there is disagreement, it can only be apparent disagreement, the fault is with our understanding.
Now for that critique
Theistic evolutionists.  As a general rule, I find these guys are:
  • Scientists first and Christians second. They have been trained in the scientific world, accepted all its paradigms, are good at their day jobs, but often lacking (sometimes woefully) in their theology and  in their understanding of the Scriptures. In other words, of God's two books, the Book of Scripture and the book of nature, they start with the book of nature and then try to fit the Book of Scripture around it.
  • Too uncritical of their disciplines. I guess I understand that; after all, you'll have a hard time in some departments if you swim against the tide.
  • Unable to see - or to accept -  that some things cannot be explained by natural law plus time plus chance.  Steve Meyer has done an excellent job recently, in exposing the impossibility of any natural phenomena to explain the origin of the cell and the Cambrian explosion (see his two books, Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt).
Creationists, as a general rule,
  •  Are Bible people  first and scientists second. Surely that can't be a criticism?! On the one hand it isn't, and if there was a side to err on, this is the side to fall.  But according to Psalm 19, both the book of Scripture and the book of nature reveal the glory of God. We must take both seriously for all truth is God's truth, though we must recognize that the Bible sets the context for interpreting creation. Creationists don't engage seriously enough with the book of nature.
  • Try to do too much, leave too little room for mystery.  In wanting to line up the Bible and the physical world (the Bible with the book of nature)  they sometimes come up with all encompassing theories which leave no room for mystery or uncertainty. Example. Take the age of various matter on the earth, as judged by the annual clock God has placed in nature (ice cores, varves, and so on). The figure from science always comes out to be way way past 10,000. Instead of accepting any of these dates (I am here only arguing for dates that arise out of the natural annual cycle; i.e. from stuff made up of layers, each one formed over one year) creationists deny them, because they don't fit into a pre-packaged chronology. Could there be another way to deal with this apparent discrepancy? Couldn't one say "I just don't know how the Book of Scripture ties up with the book of nature on this one? I mean from the genealogies it looks as though the earth is only 6000 years old, but from the book of nature we have much higher readings. I don't understand how the two can fit together." And leave it at that. After all we don't need to know or understand everything?
Which brings me to a criticism of both camps, they are not humble enough. Both want all encompassing theories that will integrate all data. But isn't this impossible, for we are not God?  What's wrong with living with apparent contradictions if they drive us to the truth about ourselves, that we cannot fully understand it? What if they drive us to worshiping the God who does?

Where do I stand?
I am often asked this and this is how I reply:
  1. I have more sympathies with creationists, because they are more rooted in Scripture and take it with the deadly seriousness it deserves.
  2. I cannot accept any of the creation myths of modern science (all cultures have creation myths, and since we live in a scientific culture, our myths just happen to be scientific ones, but they are no different in principle than the creation myths of any other culture in history). Therefore I cannot accept the Big Bang theory as fact and refuse to accept the theory of evolution as fact.
  3. There are other and better ways to integrate the data of origins than evolutionary theory. Intelligent design is far more successful than evolutionary theory.  Micro-evolution is a good gift of God to his creatures to enable them to survive a wide variety of environments over time but it can never result in   macro-evolution. New designs require new information, and nature has absolutely no means of generating new information (all it has the power to do is to take existing information and destroy it).
  4. I simply cannot tie up the Book of Scripture with the book of nature in some areas, especially the age of the earth, and I am really happy with that incompetence.
For by it I am aware of how great God is - and how little I am.


  1. The Book of Genesis is actually far more logical and scientific than the theory of evolution: