Abstract

In the last two decades there has been a growing controversy in the church over the six Days of Creation recorded in Genesis 1 and evolutionary theory. Some Christians, who accepted the idea of billions of years as propounded by most scientists, claimed that no conflict exists between Christianity and evolutionary theory. Those who make that claim are not considering the biblical text carefully enough. In order to deal with some of the issues involved, Section I presents a review of statements of some of the most eminent biologists living today and the data of two major experimental studies. Section II focuses on questions/issues that are featured or are neglected when Christians attempt to reconcile scientific theories with biblical teaching on the origin of Creation. What is at stake, if the idea of billions of years creation is true, is nothing less than the authority of Scripture and the character of God. Section III presents our reasons to conclude that what lies behind this conflict is two kinds of wisdom. The aim is to give theistic evolutionists and progressive Christians some things to consider.


Keywords: Atheists, authority, creation, evolution, naturalism, physicalism, scientism, wisdom, worldviews

Introduction

When Creationists object to Darwinian evolution, they have mainly two things in mind: (1) the widespread message that scientific thought and explanations as informed by evolutionary theory make God irrelevant to the origin of Creation and the development of life on Earth, and (2) the claim that evolutionary theory and Scripture are not in conflict. These objections are linked to at least three core doctrines of Darwin’s theory: (a) the appearance of organic beings through natural processes, (b) gradual evolution over millions of years, and (c) that human beings are not the work of a separate act of creation as stated in the Genesis record of Creation but have descended along with other mammals from a common ancestor.

For an increasing number of Christians—“theistic evolutionists”—these objections are unnecessary; Scripture and evolutionary theory are completely compatible, they say.1 And a U.S. Judge, who professed to believe in God, ruled this way in 2005 (Kitzmiller et al. 2005).

In what follows, Section I presents a review of statements by some of the most eminent biologists living today, together with the data of two major experimental studies, in order to show that the claim that no conflict exists between biblical Christianity and proponents of evolutionary theory is false.2 Section II focuses on questions/issues that are featured or are neglected when Christians attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the biblical data on the origin of Creation. What is at stake, if the idea of billions of years of evolution is true, is nothing less than the authority of Scripture and the character of God. The aim in Section III is to give us reasons to think that what lies behind this conflict is two kinds of wisdom, which is not a mere coincidence.

Section I: What do the scientists say?3

Prominent University of Chicago biology professor Jerry Coyne (2009) wrote that science delivered severe blows to “humanity’s theistic worldview” since 1859, when Darwin demolished in 545 pages of On the Origin of Species “the comforting notion that we are unique among all species – the supreme object of God’s creation . . . like all species, we are the result of a purely natural and material process” (p. 34). One of the persons who testified during the Dover court case referred to above was theologian John Haught. Haught held not only that life may have evolved, but also that “the process was really masterminded by God . . .” In other words, as Professor Coyne noted, “This progressivist and purpose-driven view of evolution, rejected by most scientists, has been embraced by Haught and other theologians” (ibid).

In contrast to Haught, who believes that Darwinism and a vaguely defined Christianity are fully compatible, the late Harvard University geology professor Stephen Jay Gould (1991) rejected the idea that “evolution indicates divine intent in our origin” (p. 15); human beings were “pitiful latecomers in the last microsecond of our planetary year” (p. 18). Elsewhere he added that no “scientific revolution can match Darwin’s discovery in degree of upset . . . Evolution substituted a naturalistic explanation of cold comfort for our former conviction that a benevolent deity fashioned us directly in his own image . . .” (Gould 2001, p. xi).

For biology professor Scott Todd (1999) the “crucial difference between what the creationists believe and what the proponents of evolutionary theory accept concerns the issue of whether the origins of life were driven by randomness or by an intelligent creator” (p. 423). In other words, evolutionary theory and the belief in God as the intelligent Creator of this world are diametrically opposed opposites. It is because Darwin’s “theory of natural selection provided a naturalistic account of the origin of species – an explanation for design without a designer” (Stewart-Williams 2004, p. 19). For prominent biologist Francisco Ayala (2007), “Darwin’s greatest contribution to science” was that he paved the way for natural laws to create what is real, therefore, that “organisms could now be explained . . . as the result of natural processes, without recourse to an Intelligent Designer” (p. 8567). Professor Nigel Williams (2008) put it bluntly: Darwin “destroyed the strongest evidence left in the nineteenth century for the existence of a deity” (p. R579). Historian of science Professor I. B. Cohen (1985) concluded that the “consequence of this revolution was a systematic rethinking of the nature of the world, of man, and of human institutions . . .” (p. 285).

It seems, then, that if God is not “needed” to explain the Creation, people are quick to conclude that He does not exist. Most Darwin scholars agree that Darwin did little to discourage arguments against religion. The fact of the matter is, he recommended an indirect strategy to convert people to atheism. In 1880, in a letter to atheist Edward Aveling (1883), Darwin noted that “direct arguments against christianity [sic] and theism” have hardly an effect on the public. The task “is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men’s minds, which follow from the advance of science [i.e., evolution]” (pp. 4–5).

But what about those who wish to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Scriptures? What do the atheist evolutionists say about them? Professor Coyne (2009) wrote that he does not deny the existence of

religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But that does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because married people are adulterers) (p. 33).

In the words of Cornell University professor William Provine (1988):

Some [scientists], along with many liberal theologians, suggest that God set up the universe in the beginning and/or works through the laws of nature. This silly way of trying to have one’s cake and eat it too amounts to deism . . . Show me a person who says that science and religion are compatible, and I will show you a person who (1) is an effective atheist, or (2) believes things demonstrably unscientific, or (3) asserts the existence of entities or processes for which no shred of evidence exists (p. 10).

Astrophysicist Steven Weinberg (2008) stated that the

worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature . . . [Our emotions and love, e.g.,] are made possible by chemical processes in our brains that are what they are as a result of natural selection acting on chance mutations over millions of years . . . . Living without God isn’t easy. But its very difficulty offers one other consolation – that there is a certain honor . . . in facing up to our condition without despair and without wishful thinking – with good humor, but without God (p. 1).

Just how widespread are the views expressed by these evolutionary scientists quoted above? And what are those views representative of?

The “scientific” worldview

The views expressed by these scientists are representative of what naturalist philosopher John Searle (1992) referred to as “our ‘scientific’ world view” (p. 85). About this worldview he said:

Some features of this world view are very tentative, others well established. At least two features of it are so fundamental and so well established as to be no longer optional for reasonably well-educated citizens of the present era; indeed they are in large part constitutive of the modern world view. These are the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology . . .[A]t present the evidence is so overwhelming that they are not simply up for grabs (p. 86).

Scientific studies and surveys of eminent evolutionists found that the scientists quoted above aligned themselves with Searle’s worldview. For example, a study conducted by Jesse Preston and Nicholas Epley (2009) concluded that “science and religion have come into conflict repeatedly throughout history, and one simple reason for this is the two offer competing explanations for many of the same phenomena” (p. 238). Interestingly enough, the researchers found that increasing the value of one decreases the value of the other because the “two ideologies are inherently opposed,” and “belief in one necessarily undermines belief in the other” (ibid).

Jerry Bergman (2010) drew attention to Greg Graffin (2004) who completed his PhD in evolutionary biology under supervision of Provine (quoted earlier) and focused his research on the religious beliefs of leading evolutionary biologists (pp. 149-150). What he found was that 98.7% of his respondents rejected a traditional theistic worldview and became functional atheists. Over 84% of the scientists that returned his questionnaire rejected all theistic religions and most concluded that evolution serves as a replacement for theism. Almost none of the scientists even tried to match Darwinism with theism, the two worldviews the US judge ruled “in no way conflicts” (Kitzmiller et al. 2005, p. 136). Put in the reverse, almost all the scientists in his study recognized the unbridgeable gap between evolution and theism, to say nothing of biblical Christianity.

But are there no objections to the evolutionary views of scientists?

Evolution as anti-science

Nobel laureate in physics Robert Laughlin (2005) observed that evolutionary theory is actually anti-science, which involves explanations that have

no implications and cannot be tested. I call such logical dead ends antitheories . . .: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it . . . . Biology has plenty of theories [to explain origins]. They are just not discussed – or scrutinized – in public (pp. 168–169).

In other words, Darwinian evolution has been put forward as an explanatory theory of everything or as “an explanation for events for which no explanation as of yet exists. This implies that a valid scientific explanation does exist, which may discourage scientific investigation to find the real explanation” (Bergman 2010, p.150). Todd (1999) put it this way: “[I]t should be made clear in the classroom that science, including evolution, has not disproved God’s existence because it cannot be allowed to consider it” (p. 423). Why not? Todd says, “[Even if] all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic” (ibid). In 1929 prominent evolutionist D.M.S. Watson wrote that evolution “is accepted by zoologists, not because it has been observed to occur or . . . is supported by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible” (pp. 231–233).

But what if there is a lack of evidence in favor of evolutionary theory? Would scientists be ready to forego evolutionary theory? Richard Dawkins (2006) said that “I may not always be right, but I care passionately about what is true and I never say anything that I do not believe to be right,” (p. xviii) but then, “even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory . . . we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories” (p. 287). Dawkins is no more than an echo of Charles Darwin. Darwin acknowledged that he would maintain his view of the origin of humans by means of the mindless processes of nature, “even if it were unsupported by other facts or arguments” (Darwin 1859, p. 91). “Even if”? This reflects a highly anti-scientific attitude. Naturally Darwin (with a degree in “divinity”) would have been very conscious of what his evolutionary theory implies; amongst other things, a radical rejection of biblical teaching on the creation of the world and the origin of life. In November 1838, 21 years before The Origin of Species (1859) and 33 years before The Descent of Man (1871) appeared in print, Darwin already wrote his decision in his “N Notebook” (which was not intended for public knowledge): “I will never allow that because there is a chasm between man . . . and animals that man has a different origin [i.e., that humans were separately created from animals]” (Wiker 2002, p. 235).

It is reasonable to conclude that Darwin, with his indirect approach to atheism, banished God from the minds of many scientists. This is precisely how Provine (1994) saw it:

When Darwin deduced the theory of natural selection to explain the adaptations in which he had previously seen the handiwork of God, he knew he was committing cultural murder. He understood immediately that if natural selection explained adaptations, and evolution by descent were true, then the argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely the existence of a personal god, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life (p. 30).

It should be clear beyond doubt that Judge Jones was grossly uninformed or very misleading when he concluded in the Dover trial that evolutionary theory “in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator” (Kitzmiller et al. 2005, p. 136). It makes it reasonable to think the same about Christians who maintain the Judge’s conclusion. However, some continue to ignore it. A single example in the context of neuroscience will illustrate the point.

Professor Nancey Murphy

From studies of the brain has emerged the claim that a human person is only a material, biological body (organism) and brain, nothing more, and nothing less. This view of the human person leads to a very important question. Is it the neuroscientific discoveries themselves that lead to this view, or is it the interpretation of those discoveries? Much available evidence indicates that the widespread naturalism, scientism and physicalism control interpretations of neuroscientific research findings.

Philosopher and theologian Nancey Murphy (2006) is representative in this regard: “My central thesis is this . . . we are our bodies – there is no additional metaphysical element such as a mind or soul or spirit” (p. ix). Elsewhere she stated,

[N]euroscience is now completing the Darwinian revolution, bringing the mind into the purview of biology. My claim, in short, is this: all of the human capacities once attributed to the immaterial mind or soul are now yielding to the insights of neurobiology . . . . [W]e have to accept the fact that God has to do with brains – crude as this may sound (Murphy, undated CTI Reflections, pp. 88, 96. Cf. Brown and Jeeves 1998).

About science she said,

[F]or better or for worse, we have inherited a view of science as methodologically atheistic, meaning that science . . . seeks naturalistic explanations for all natural processes. Christians and atheists alike must pursue scientific questions in our era without invoking a creator . . . anyone who attributes the characteristics of living things to creative intelligence has by definition stepped into the arena of either metaphysics or theology (Murphy, in Baird and Rosenbaum 2007, pp. 194, 195).

If scientism (the view that science is our highest, if not only, source of knowledge) is true, then Scripture cannot make an appeal to knowledge. At most, if it has anything to say about the soul, it has to wait until validated and accepted by the scientific community. Murphy admitted that she could have called her position “nonreductive materialism,” (2006, p. 116) but prefer “nonreductive physicalism,” (2005, p. 116) because the word “physicalism” indicates her agreement with the scientists and philosophers who hold that it is not necessary to postulate a metaphysical (immaterial) soul or mind in addition to the material body/brain.

“Christian” physicalists (the new name for materialists) suggested accordingly a physicalist theology. “By this [they] mean a Biblical and theological anthropology which can sustain a physicalist view of humans without loss or degradation of Biblical teachings, theological substance or critical doctrines” (Brown and Jeeves 1999, p. 6). A review of criticisms advanced against Christian physicalists show precisely the opposite of what they set out to accomplish. If their thesis, that the human person is identical to his or her body/brain, is true, then it follows that (1) sameness of identity through change will be impossible, which means that the resurrection and life after death will be incoherent notions (Delfino 2005), (2) the existence of angels, Satan and demons become an illusion (Garcia 2000), that (3) free will and eternal life will be incompatible with Christian physicalism (Larmer 2000), and most important of all, (4) the Incarnation of Christ cannot be true (Siemans 2005).

These criticisms revealed the exact opposite of what theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) concluded in his theology text in 1871, when justifying his compromise with millions of years (while rejecting Darwinian evolution): “The Church has been forced more than once to alter her interpretation of the Bible to accommodate the discoveries of science. But this has been done without doing violence to the Scriptures or in any degree impairing their authority” (1997, p. I:573). In other words, what the critics have shown is that the debate between Christians who adopt Darwinian evolution and their critics must not be construed as a mere difference in hermeneutics (interpretation) of Scripture. It cuts far deeper.

The facts are threefold: First, the common claim that no conflict exists between biblical creation (as taught in Genesis) and the claims of evolutionists (Christian or secular) is contradicted by the evidence. Second, just as it is impossible to believe that a single statement of fact (a proposition) can be both true and false at the same time, likewise one cannot logically and simultaneously believe in two contradictory explanations of the Creation and the origin of life. Either God created life, and Scripture is true, or mindless natural processes did, and evolutionism is true. But not both! Finally, the conflict is in essence a conflict of authority that involves the character of God and, as we will see in Section III, two inherently opposed kinds of wisdom.

Section II: Scripture, the character of God and the six days of creation

Two common questions are (1) Why can we not accept both evolution and Christianity? and (2) Is it not possible that God used evolution as His method of creating? Before we can consider these questions, we need to ask this first: Is evolutionary theory true, if it means that life originated spontaneously from mindless chemical processes of nature in some ancient pool (abiogenesis)? If it is true, then it follows that the Bible is not the authorative Word of God and the Word of God lies. Let us therefore consider the meaning of Day in Genesis 1 in light of a series of questions.

How should deductive and inductive reasoning be understood?

One of the most prominent markers in Genesis regarding the time scale of creation in Genesis 1 is the Hebrew yom that is translated as “day” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 23, 31). In order to make the evolutionary worldview with its millions of years harmonize with Scripture, yom has to be interpreted in a non-literal way.

According to Genesis 1, God made the Earth in six yamim. The exegetical method (exegesis = “to lead out”), which is in essence a deductive method, would use the text and context (immediate and larger biblical context) as the starting point in order to assign meaning to any given word or expression. This is the same principle that applies for good semantics in the study of other literature. A brief look at some of the inherent constraints of the text and context of Genesis 1 will therefore be in order.

  1. In Genesis 1 yom is modified by a number (e.g., “first day,” “second day,” etc). Outside of Genesis 1, yom is used together with a number 410 times. Without exception, in all instances, yom points to a literal 24-hour Day.
  2. The expression (literally translated) “and evening was and morning was” (e.g., Genesis 1:5, 8) occurs 61 times outside of Genesis 1. Without exception, in all instances, it points to a literal 24-hour Day.
  3. In the first part of Genesis 1:5, yom (day) is used together with layla (lit. laylah, night). Outside of Genesis 1, yom is used together with layla 53 times. In all these instances, it points to a part of a literal 24-hour Day (for points 1–3, see Stambaugh 1996, pp. 12, 15, 72–74, in Batten et al. 2003, p. 26).
  4. Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:9-11 refer to literal Days. The observance of the literal seventh Day of the week, the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9–11), is rooted in the fact that the six days of Creation were six literal days (Genesis 2:2–3).

By taking these inherent constraints into account, a non-literal interpretation of yom in the immediate context of Genesis 1, would be an exemplary example of inductive reasoning, where the interpreter forces the text to fit with his preconceived notion, and disregards the context in the process. We call this “eisegesis” (“to lead in”) not exegesis (“to lead out”). If yom in Genesis 1 should be taken as non-literal, one would expect some sort of pointer within the text that would validate such a notion, but such a pointer is absent entirely. We therefore conclude that there is nothing inherent in the text of Genesis 1 that would suggest that this yom is not referring to six literal 24-hour days.

There are, however, people who try to turn the meaning of Day in Genesis 1 into something else—millions, or even billions, of years—in order to make room for the long ages of evolutionary geology. Their position is known as the “progressive creation” view, also referred to as “day-age” or “old-earth” view. The basic idea is that while life was developing through the long ages as imagined by evolutionists, God stepped in at various stages along the way to create something new that the naturalistic evolutionary process could not accomplish without His intervention. This long ages view of evolutionary geology will not work for at least three reasons. First, it presupposed that fossils point toward death and struggle for survival over million of years. Second, it therefore wrongly implies that death and struggle were realities before the creation of Adam. And third, this view conflicts with the clear teaching of Scripture.

Do you believe in a literal virgin birth and bodily resurrection of Jesus?

This question has to do with the consistency of one’s beliefs. To see why, consider this question: If you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and His literal bodily resurrection from the dead, on what do you base these beliefs? Certainly not on scientific discoveries; no scientist saw the virgin birth or Jesus rise from the dead. We only have historical records in the Bible. So the answer to the question is, we base these beliefs on Scripture. In this regard Jesus said some interesting things.

  1. In response to the truth of His teaching He said, “If [people] do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
  2. In response to the Sadducees who did not believe in a bodily resurrection: “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
  3. In response to Nicodemus who questioned Him about His authority and miracles: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

The point should be clear. If we believe the Scriptures here—in reference to what Jesus said—in a literal sense, then why not believe that the world was created in literally six Days? The only reason to reject the words of Jesus is because scientists say it is impossible for a virgin to give birth and for a person to rise from the dead, or because the words of Jesus conflict with evolutionary theory. This creates a further problem.

Is it logically consistent to reject Moses and still believe what Jesus proclaimed in a literal sense?

In John 5 Jesus told His listeners, and, now, His readers: “[I]f you believed Moses, you would believe Me. But if you do not believe His writings, how will you believe My words?” (vv. 46–47). In other words, Jesus did not contradict the writings of Moses. Here follows a few things Jesus said about Genesis.

  1. On the creation of human beings: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:3–8).

    It is interesting that Jesus did three things in this passage of Scripture. He showed Himself to confirm the young earth; He showed that He took Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as equally literal, therefore, showed that He regarded the record of Genesis 1 and 2 as literal history.

  2. On Abel and the foundation of the world: “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, in order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world . . . from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . .’” (Luke 11:49–51).

    In this passage Jesus was not only referring to the beginning of Creation, but also to . . .

  3. Noah and a global Flood: “And just as it happened in the days of Noah . . .” (Matthew 24:37–39; cf. Genesis 6:5–8, 7).4

    To believe in a type of Creation that would take billions of years thus calls into question the authority of Jesus. However, Jesus did not only accept the Old Testament Scriptures as the authorative Word of God (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24), He also acknowledged God as Creator (Mark 13:19), and He testified of the global Flood of Noah. In fact, the New Testament also teaches about Jesus’ involvement in Creation itself (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2–3,10–12; Revelation 4:11). A non-literal interpretation of the record of Creation in Genesis 1 would therefore have to disregard Jesus’ authority on the Old Testament Scripture.

Now it is true, whether one believes in six literal Days of Creation or not will probably not directly affect one’s salvation. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, not by believing in six literal days of creation. But apart from the fact that this rejection of the literal truth of Genesis might be a stepping stone of rejecting the authority of Jesus or the authority of Scripture all together, one’s beliefs about the literal record of Genesis will affect one’s discipleship, as we consider next.

Is it logically consistent to claim to be a disciple of Jesus but reject His teachings?

Many Christians today claims Jesus as their Savior while rejecting some of His teachings. That is, of course, utterly inconsistent with being a disciple of Jesus: “Jesus was therefore saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word [teachings], then you are truly disciples of Mine’” (John 8:31). But what about the Bible, is it any different to the teachings of Jesus? Not if we accept that the Bible presents itself as the uniquely authorative and inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Consider the following:

  1. Scripture claims over 3000 times that it is the Word of God.
  2. Jesus often cited Scripture to settle a dispute (e.g., Matthew 22:23–32) and He said that Scripture “cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
  3. Jesus often asked, “Have you not read?” (Matthew 19:4), and then He took the quoted Scripture literally.
  4. Jesus often said, “It is written” (Matthew 4:1–10; Luke 19:46) or “As it is written” (Luke 3:4) or “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Luke 4:21).
  5. Jesus often referred to “all of the prophets” (Luke 18:31) or a whole book, such as the “book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42).

It is difficult not to conclude that, for Jesus, what Scripture said, the Creator said (Matthew 19:5). It would therefore be good practice to remind ourselves that God is infinite in knowledge; He cannot be hampered by a lack of understanding in geology or astronomy! If He did not intend for us to accept Genesis as literal history, then God deliberately misled us through Jesus and all of His disciples. It is therefore reasonable to think that once we reject a literal Genesis in favor of evolutionary views, we put ourselves on a slippery slope of unbelief (see Ham and Byers 2000 for a discussion of the sad example of Charles Templeton and the consequences that followed). The least we can say is that to reject the literal truth of the texts in Genesis amounts to a questioning of God’s ability to clearly communicate with His children.

Is the Bible not the work of fallible people?

From what we have seen so far, there is no reason to think that Scripture is the work of fallible men. The question is representative of those who want to throw us into doubt about the truth of Scripture and our understanding of its authority. The argument goes roughly like this: The Bible is fallible because it is the product of people’s afterthought about God’s Word and historical events as they perceived them. This means, if yom in Genesis 1 represents a literal day of 24-hours, but scientific methods and research show that it is impossible for the world to have been created in six literal days, then logically God’s Word is fallible and science and its methods infallible. But the idea that scientists and their methods are infallible is something most, if not all, scientists would deny. It follows, then, that any argument to the effect that it would be unwise to put one’s faith in a fallible human work such as the Bible, but wise to put one’s faith in the fallible methods or interpretations of scientists, must be rejected because it is self-contradictory and incoherent.

What happens when we take into account what Paul wrote, reject a literal Genesis, and accept the voice of the majority of scientists? First, humanity did not descend from a single male—the first Adam and first human being created by God (Acts 17:26; 1 Corinthians 15:45). In other words, we are to consider that Paul reflected a serious lack of knowledge and understanding of the world. It follows we cannot really trust Paul concerning origins. But if this is what we are to accept, then we face a dilemma. Consider Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:1–20.

  1. Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (v. 1).
  2. Paul “fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (v. 4).
  3. Paul asked: “‘Who are you Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus’” (v. 5).
  4. Paul “immediately [began] to proclaim Jesus,” “saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (v. 20).

We submit that Paul’s change of heart is utterly unintelligible and wholly impossible apart from his understanding of the events of (b) and (c). Above all, Paul’s confident actions in (d) would make no sense apart from his belief in the response in (c). If this is a sensible conclusion, then the dilemma Paul created for us is this: Can we justifiably endorse his message (d) if we reject his beliefs. To put it bluntly, if we do not believe that Paul or any other biblical writer wrote on the basis of what God revealed to them, then we call into question everything they believed and that some even died for. This means that we are not at liberty to pick and choose from Scripture what to believe and what not to believe. However, according to the view of some Christians, instances of conflict between science and Scripture can be decided on a case-by-case basis, which is highly problematic.

Are we to allow scientists to dictate to us our interpretation of Scripture?

Many Christian leaders and scholars today hold the view that we can accommodate the idea of millions of years of evolutionary history in our understanding of Genesis. One such justly respected scholar is J. P. Moreland, a philosophy professor at Biola University. It therefore grieves us deeply to say we disagree with Professor Moreland. There are two reasons. Firstly, because of our own commitment to the truth of Scripture, and secondly, because of our encounter with Christians who have appropriated and disseminated Professor Moreland’s view of Scripture in ways that could only harm the faith of many a Christian.

Our aim is accordingly to add to some of the points raised in a paper published by Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson (2009) in response to an article by Moreland (2002) which appears (with his approval) on the Reasons to Believe website. The issue takes on added significance in light of a paper by Moreland in 2007 under the title of “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What can be Done about It.” Moreland’s thesis is this: “To be more specific, in the actual practices of the evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ” (p. 1). After having clarified what he meant by “over-commitment,”5 he followed with two suggestions to correct the problem: (1) “. . . teach people how to avail themselves appropriately of the extra-biblical knowledge available,” and (2) “. . . develop biblical, theological and philosophical justifications for such knowledge along with guidance for its use” (p. 8). He concluded with the following words: “In sum, we Evangelicals rightly confess the ultimate authority of God’s inerrant Word. But we can no longer afford the luxury of Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible” (ibid). What seems clear is that Moreland has not changed his view of Scripture and science since he presented it in 2002. In different words, he developed an argument against “over-commitment to the Bible” and for “extra-biblical knowledge” in order to continue to interpret “day” in Genesis as intrinsically consistent with a long age. The place to begin to make sense of this state of affairs is Moreland’s commitments.

The first thing we note is that Professor Moreland (2002),6 after having stated that “we are not to allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament,” registers his awareness of a real danger:

The argument is that if you take the days of Genesis as not being six days and take them as maybe longer periods of time, then where do you draw the line . . . why wouldn’t the same reasoning imply that we’ll eventually have to reinterpret the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ?

What is the danger? Once Christians think it is acceptable to reinterpret the days in Genesis in a non-literal manner, then they have an open a door to do similar things with the rest of Scripture. In different words, if a Christian starts to inductively uphold a preconceived notion (in this instance, about millions of years) and make one Scripture portion to fit that notion, what would prevent him from doing the same with another Scripture portion? Or what consistent control is there in a Christian’s method of interpretation that would prevent him from deconstructing the whole of the Bible in order to hold on to an evolutionary worldview? Moreland has noted the danger; whether he can solve it is questionable, because

most Christian scholars do not accept six literal days . . . they start from outside of Scripture by accepting what the scientific establishment say about millions of years and then proceed to use that ‘fact’ to interpret the Hebrew word yom (translated ‘day’ in Genesis 1) in a way that cannot be justified from the context of Scripture. This is not sound exegesis. Rather, it is using man’s fallible ideas (the supported millions of years) to impose a meaning upon the text. Applying the same principles, one should also reinterpret the Resurrection and Virgin Birth as myths and allegories, since the same scientific establishment tells us that people do not rise from the dead, nor do virgins conceive (Ham and Mortenson 2009, p. 2).

We thus have to face the problem of inconsistency. If Christians wish to be consistent, then the majority voice of scientists must be accepted in all instances where they render a negative verdict on matters which the Bible clearly speaks. Here is an example in neuroscience. According to philosopher Patricia Churchland (2005),

Available evidence indicates that the brain is the thing that thinks, feels, chooses, remembers, and plans . . . . [I]t is exceedingly improbable that there exists a non-physical soul or mind that does the thinking, feeling and perceiving, and that in some utterly occult manner connects with the physical brain. Broadly speaking, the evidence from . . . the various neurosciences strongly imply that there is only the physical brain and its body . . . (p. 5).

Now if 98% of all physicalist neuroscientists currently adhere to this view of a human person (see Snead 2007, p. 15), and if the neuroscientific consensual view of a human person is correct and Christians have to accept it, then all biblical references to life after death (e.g. John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18) have to be reinterpreted. Why would that follow? If human beings are made up of nothing more than a material body and brain, then they will decompose upon death and eventually disintegrate. Moreover, if a naturalistic view of human beings is upheld, the natural next step would be to disregard the spiritual dimension entirely, and eventually deconstruct the existence of God, angels, demons, etc. The list never ends. Now if a Christian decides to object to the scientific consensus, on what basis would he do that? It cannot be Scripture, for “science” has spoken. What he must do then is harmonizing Scripture with science.

But Moreland reasoned differently: “The fact of the matter is, when you interpret biblical texts, you’ve got to take each one at its own merits and you’ve got to do the very best you can to handle that text by itself.” This is not consistent and is at best arbitrary, because once a certain way of interpretation is accepted there is no reason not to apply it to other texts of the Bible. For example, it is a short step from understanding “day” in Genesis 1 in a non-literal sense to understanding “day” in Exodus 20:9 in the same sense. Not to do so would be inconsistent. So we have a legitimate concern here. In the words of Ham and Mortenson (2009):

[H]istorically speaking, in the church the rejection of the literal truth of Genesis preceded (and hermeneutically laid the groundwork for) the rejection of the literal truth of the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ. By and large, people have abandoned belief in Genesis 1–11, before they abandoned belief in the Gospels. Young-earth creationists do not take, and never have taken, every word or verse in the Bible literally, contrary to what our critics charge. We have always recognized that there are idioms, parables and other figurative, symbolic phrases or sections of Scripture. What we have contended is that Genesis 1–11 is not one of those sections. It is sober, true and inerrant history (p. 5).

Moreland said that an old-earth interpretation “is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science, because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.” This idea is not an idea from nowhere; it flows from an erroneous assumption, which he stated elsewhere this way: “Moreover, Christians have a special intellectual and moral obligation to follow Augustine’s advice: we have a duty, he said, to show that our Scriptures do not contradict what we have reason to believe from reliable sources outside them” (Moreland 1994, p. 11). It is simply false; Christians have no “special intellectual and moral obligation to follow Augustine’s advice,” especially if that means to reinterpreting Scripture in inconsistent ways. The fact of the matter is,

No such [valid] old-earth interpretation exists. They all ignore at least some of the details of Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:8–11 that show overwhelmingly that these were literal days of creation. They all ignore the theological problem of millions of years of death before the Fall and (knowingly or unconsciously) reduce the Curse in Genesis 3 to nothing more than a spiritual consequence affecting man alone. These old-earth views all ignore the testimony of Jesus and the apostles they were young-earth creationists . . . None of these old-earth reinterpretations are ‘justified exegetically independent of science’ but rather are classic examples of eisegesis (reading into the text what we want it to say), whereby evolutionary theory, millions of years hypotheses and assumptions (not ‘science’) are used to make the text say what it simply does not say (Ham and Mortenson 2009, p. 7).

The sad effect of Moreland’s views, as noted by Ham, Mortenson, and ourselves at the beginning of this discussion, is that many Christians will and have accepted uncritically what respected leaders are saying in public, and therefore accepted uncritically an unbiblical idea. And that idea derives ultimately from the advice of Augustine, namely, that science justify the “rejection of six ordinary days of creation for one simple reason; because the majority of the scientists of this age, along with the majority of Bible scholars (who uncritically follow the scientific majority) believe the earth is billions of years old” (Ham and Mortenson 2009, p. 12).

Not too long ago, molecular biologist and medical doctor Michael Denton (1986)—who is not a Christian—observed that “the crowning achievement, of the naturalistic view of the world, [is] the final triumph of the secular . . . (p. 353).” This observation raises the question of whether the anti-God and “naturalistic view of the world” is an accident or not rather symptomatic of something deeper.

Section III: Two kinds of wisdom

In his book The Long War Against God, Dr. Henry Morris (1989) wrote:

Evolutionism is basic in ancient and modern ethnic religions and in all forms of pantheism. Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace admitted that he received the basic tenets of the Darwinian form of this heresy while in an occult trance in a Malaysian jungle. It does not take a theologian to figure out the identity of the revealer. Satan and his evolutionary gospel hate God as the Creator, Christ as the Savior, and the Bible as the Word of God. Modern evolutionism is simply the continuation of Satan’s long war against God (p. 10).

Christians who think the creation-evolution conflict is a mere conflict over biblical interpretation and the “voice” of science need to think again. Dr Morris’ words reveal the character of this world and its ruler as the very antithesis (opposite) of God (cf. John 12:31, 14:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19). So when Christians find themselves on crossroads in regard to the ideas of this world, the first question is not whether they will make Christianity relevant to the world, but whether they are consistent with the revealed truth of God found in the Bible.

This also seems to be the message of James 3:15–17. In this part of Scripture, the apostle identified two kinds of wisdom that are diametrically opposed to each other: the wisdom from “above” and the wisdom from “below.” Characteristic of the wisdom “from above” is that it is “reasonable” (v. 17). Whereas the New American Standard Bible indicates that the word “reasonable” can also mean “willing to yield,” the King James Bible reads “easy to be intreated.” The idea seems to be that Christians are characterized by an attitude to yield to the knowledge and truth that come from God (v. 13–14), as opposed to a this-worldly and unyielding attitude characteristic of the wisdom from “below.” We could therefore wonder whether this is a mere coincidence that scientists today wish for us to accept naturalistic evolutionary theory as an explanatory “theory of everything.” In Section I, we have noted the convictions of some of the most eminent scientists on this planet today, and we have also seen that both Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins said that they will believe in evolutionary theory even if it is false.

So what follows when a Christian accepts evolutionary theory and its implications? There will be efforts to make Scripture relevant to worldly standards and schemes, and a discrediting of the authority of the Word of God. Let us consider what a leading evolutionist and atheist had to say about Christians who interact with the Bible in that way.

Thomas Huxley as a reminder

In his day, Huxley (1825–1895) was known as “Darwin’s bulldog,” as he did more to propagate Darwin’s ideas than anyone else, including Darwin himself. It is sad to say, but Huxley knew the Bible and understood Christianity better than many a theologian today. What Huxley clearly saw was that reading millions of years into the Days of Creation as recorded in Genesis amounts to nothing less than a compromise of Scripture. And he used that very compromise against Christians to help him in his task of undermining the Christian faith. In his essay, “Lights of the Church and Science,” he made the following statements:

I am fairly at a loss to comprehend how anyone, for a moment, can doubt that Christian theology must stand or fall with the historical trustworthiness of the Jewish Scriptures [Old Testament]. The very conception of the Messiah, or Christ, is inextricable interwoven with Jewish history; the identification of Jesus of Nazareth with the Messiah rests upon the interpretation of the passages of the Hebrew Scriptures which have no evidential value unless they possess the historical character assigned to them. If the covenant with Abraham was not made; if circumcision and sacrifices were not ordained by Jahveh; if the ‘ten words’ [i.e., 10 Commandments] were not written by God's hand on the stone tables; if Abraham is more or less a mythical hero, such as Theseus; the Story of the Deluge a fiction; that of the Fall a legend; and that of the Creation the dream of a seer; if all these definite and detailed narratives of apparently real events have no more value as history than have the stories of the regal period of Rome--what is to be said about the Messianic doctrine, which is so much less clearly enunciated. And what about the authority of the writers of the books of the New Testament, who, on this theory, have not merely accepted flimsy fictions for solid truths, but have built the very foundations of Christian dogma upon legendary quicksands? (Huxley 1893, pp. 207–208).

What was Huxley’s point? If Christians believe the New Testament, then they must believe the Creation account of Genesis as historical truth. He quoted Matthew 19:4–5 where Jesus referred to the literal creation “at the beginning” and “male and female,” and then asked:

If divine authority is not here claimed for the twenty-fourth verse of the second chapter of Genesis, what is the value of language? And again, I ask, if one may play fast and loose with the story of the Fall as a ‘type’ or ‘allegory,’ what becomes of the foundation of Pauline theology?” . . . . If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive ‘type,’ comparable to the profound Prometheus mythos, what value has Paul’s dialectic (Huxley 1893, pp. 235–236)?

Huxley was adamant that science (by which he understood evolutionary, long-age ideas about the past) had proven that one cannot intelligibly accept the Genesis record of Creation as historical truth. He thus mocked those who tried to harmonize millions of years of evolutionary history with Scripture, because it would require of them to give up a historical Genesis while still trying to hold on to the teachings of the New Testament. In short, Huxley serves as a reminder that Christians who insist on accepting evolution and/or millions of years can only do so consistently, if they give up the Bible totally. Compromise is therefore not an option for a biblical Christian.

Summary and conclusion

Many Christians today accept evolution and/or millions of years in order to show that the Bible does not conflict with science. The evidence suggests that those who make that claim are misguided and inconsistent in their handling of Scripture. The bottom line is that just as it is impossible to believe a statement of fact can be both true and false at the same time, so it is logically impossible to believe that two contradictory explanations of Creation can both be true at the same time. Section II focused more on questions/issues that are featured or are neglected when Christians attempt to reconcile scientific theories with biblical data on the origins of life or the kinds of things that exist in the world. When Christians begin to accuse or imply that their fellow Christians are “over-committed” to the Bible, they sow seeds of doubt in the authority of Scripture, even if they do it unconsciously and unintentionally, or as a result of pressure to be “fully relevant” to the world. In different words, it is a short step before someone thinks that biblical Christians are “fighting science” when they actually oppose attempts to reinterpret Scripture in order to reconcile it with anti-biblical human inventions. Nothing could be further from the truth. If “It is written” was good enough for Jesus then it ought to be good enough for us. Section III suggested that Christians would do well to reconsider their views about the source and nature of the naturalism that currently controls interpretations of biblical and scientific data. In other words, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the reviewers of this paper for their very helpful and appreciated suggestions and corrections.

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Footnotes

  1. This is also the conclusion of zoologist Dr Michael Jarvis (2007). In the download version of his book God by Evolution, Dr Jarvis said, “If Christianity is to be fully relevant in our day, I believe it must embrace the overwhelming [scientific] evidence for the great age of our Universe and Earth, the existence of death right from the first life and the existence of anatomically modern people before biblical Adam. For many people, to deny these realities would be to commit intellectual suicide” (p. 5). There appears to be only one way Christianity could be “fully relevant in our day,” and that is to interpret Scripture in such a way as to make it harmonize with evolutionary interpretations of scientific discoveries. In the words of Jarvis (2007), “[S]ome historical interpretations of Christianity [i.e., a literal understanding of the Genesis record of Creation] need to be re-interpreted, if they are to be reconcilable with the whole truth” (p. 5). We shall see in this paper that Dr Jarvis’ call to make Christianity relevant to the world amounts to nothing less than a compromise of Scripture and the undermining of the Christian gospel. Back
  2. We are not saying that “there is no conflict between faith and science” (or “religion and science”) or “there is no conflict between faith in God and evolution.” It is this language that deceives Christians by directing their attention away from biblical revelation and onto a vaguely defined “faith.” This deceptive language needs to be exposed and the real battle of the clear teaching of Genesis versus the theory of evolution. Back
  3. Most of the quotations in this section appears in Bergman (2010, pp. 147–152). Back
  4. For an indepth discussion of issues relating to items 1–3, see Mortenson (2007, 2009), and John Whitcomb and Henry Morris (1961). Back
  5. By “over-commitment” Moreland refers to Christians who accept Scripture as their ultimate authority and ultimate source of relevant knowledge, but then go on to accept Scripture as the sole authority or source of knowledge relevant to understanding the world (Moreland 2007, p. 2). While that may be true of many Christians, the authors are not aware of a single creationist who considers Scripture as the sole source of knowledge. What they do hold, as Moreland rightly pointed out, is that Scripture is their ultimate authority and source of knowledge in all matters on which it speaks (cf. John 17:17, 5:33; Galatians 5:7; 1 John 2:21). Back
  6. This and all subsequent quotes by Moreland are from his 2002 article. Back