Apologetics – the ‘Offensive’ Beliefs of Christianity – Biblical Creation and Evolution

This entry is part of 15 in the series Apologetics - Buck McCallum

Apologetics – the ‘Offensive’ Beliefs of Christianity – Biblical Creation and Evolution

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Intro: Evolution is an emotional issue

Tonight we’re going to compare two views on the origin of the world as we see it: Creation and evolution. If you’ve been involved in the debate about this issue at all, then you know that it is a very emotional issue. It has been that way ever since the turn of the century when evolution began to become popular. It’s emotional from the Christian side of things because the conflict between creationism and evolution defined modern American Christianity so much. It was a conflict that put Christians on the defensive and began to make them feel like they were a small backwater, a minority in a culture that was against them. Some people who believed in evolution made Christians out to be ignorant, unscientific hillbillies. On the other side, it is an emotional issue for people who believe in evolution. It’s emotional because sometimes creationists say things that are really stupid. So when you hear something like the moon is made out of cheese, your response is often fierce and emotional. But they are also emotional because there is a lot at stake. To say that creation took place is to say that a personal, creative God exists. And a god like that is the kind of God you would have to meet some day. It would be the kind of God you would be accountable to. And don’t think for a minute that weighty issues like that don’t play a part. It’s naive to think that in the face of stakes that high?the question of ultimate reality and whether we will ever face God?people are completely objective and unbiased. It is an emotional issue. So, one of the side effects of that is that we find people taking positions and making statements that are on the extremes. What I want to do tonight is look only at those positions in each camp that are more solid, definsible, etc. In other words, I want to take the most well-supported and verifiable claims of each position and see how they compare.

Clarifying the problem(s)

When we talk about “Creationism,” we are going to be talking about the way it is presented in the Bible. That means you need to take some of the things you’ve heard, or a very 2-dimensional, simplistic portrayal of Creationism and put it aside for now. I want to look specifically at what is stated in the Bible. With evolution, likewise, we’re going to talk about some of the different ways that term is understood and used. There are two distinct problems when we start to compare Genesis with the geological and biological evidence we have. On the one hand, there is the problem of the earth’s age. And that has to do with the geological evidence that we live on a very old planet, which some see as not allowable by the biblical account. The second issue has to do with the matter of evolution, and whether the story of creation and God’s intervention is at odds with what we know about evolution. I will deal with each of these questions in turn. But first, let’s actually read the Bible’s account of creation. Read the passage

Creation and Evolution

I want to deal with the issue of evolution first, because in a lot of ways, it is the one that people want to know about the most.

What the Bible affirms

What does this passage actually affirm that would have a bearing on the matter of evolution? Well, it says three things. 1. God created all things. That is certainly what is affirmed outright in v.ÿ1. But it is also described throughout the rest of this passage. 2. The animals and plants he created were “after their kind.” This is a statement that has been taken to have quite a bit of bearing on the whole issue of creation and evolution. It is argued by some creationists that the phrase “after their kind,” which is repeated about half a dozen times, disallows evolution. 3. He created man distinct from the rest, in his own image. Then, finally, the pinacle of creation was humankind. And the point that this passage makes is that man was unique. These are the “facts”, if you will, from the Bible’s side of things. In other words, these are the things that Gen.ÿ1 clearly affirms, that would have something to do with the issue of evolution (The “6 days” issue has to do more with the age of the earth. We will also talk about the interpretation of that language at that time). What do we know from the scientific side?

What science affirms

We can say quite a few things from the scientific side of things. 1. Evolution is a fact. This is somewhat of a surprise to many Christians and religious types. A lot of the rhetoric that goes back and forth between the two camps tends to emphasize that evolution is a theory. And indeed, if you are talking about naturalistic evolution–that is, evolution with no God in the picture, evolution as a self-contained, self-governing system–that is a theory. And we’ll talk about that in a minute. But the fact is, evolution happens every day. Species do mutate. (show examples of horse, elephant and car on overhead). And there are examples from today (peppered moth in England). Organisms do adapt to their environment, resulting in some degree of selection, although it’s not nearly so orderly or understandable as Darwin first thought. Now, even though I say evolution is a fact, this does not mean that every single species, genus or phylum has come from one original source. That most certainly cannot be demonstrated as a fact in any sense of the word. So, we know that a process called evolution occurs. Just how far it extends is something that is open to great debate, and I suspect always will be. And that’s simply because the data we need to close the issue is probably not recoverable. 2. There is an observable progression in the geological record. In the geological record, we don’t find all living things appearing at once, as if God entered in and created the world in 7 days. What we find is a very slow progression from very simple celled planktons and algeas, to sophisticated reptiles and mammals. 3. The progression was not uniform. When I say that there was a gradual progression from simple to complex life forms, I do not mean that it was a nice, smooth process. In fact, the evidence is quite clear that the entrance of life forms in the geological record was quite abrupt and proliferate. In other words, a new life form appears in the geological record with gusto. It won’t be there at one point, and then it’s all over the world in great numbers. At the very least, the conclusion we have to reach is that something dramatic happened at these epochs to cause often the extinction of many species and the abrupt introduction of many new ones. There is a fascinating article on this in the National Geographic (May, 1989).

Resolving the two

Well, when we look at things this way, I really don’t think these two perspectives are all too far apart.

Observation of processes does not explain them.

First, this is real important, the observation of a process does not explain why that process happens. There is a distinction we need to make in scientific research between the behavior of a process, and what governs that behavior. The role of science is to establish, by research and observation, the regular patterns of behavior of a process. And when that can be established, we can call it a law, or a theory, or whatever. But that does not mean that is the end of it. We have not said anything about what governs that process. We cannot say something about why that process happens or where it came from. Here’s the point: There has never been a process, or an object, or a fact unearthed by science that is a stand-alone, self contained process. In other words, every thing, every process, every object is contingent upon something else. Every process has a cause. We have never discovered an ultimate cause. Every process has other forces which govern it. We have never discovered the ultimate force that governs the universe. For a scientist to trace down the working of various processes is great. It could conceivably be an endless task. On the other hand, to draw conclusions about the ultimate source of those processes, or the ultimate force that governs those processes is not legitimate! That’s to go beyond what a scientist can scientifically verify. He can speculate if he wants. But at that point he’s talking about his philosiphy or his belief. Science addresses questions in the natural world. To speculate on the existence of a supernatural sources, or the lack of a supernatural source, is not in the scope of science. That is a philosophical or religious question. I want you to understand this boundary here, because it is by crossing it that the debate has really heated up. Many naturalistic evolutionists will go beyond the legitimate scope of science and begin to draw conclusions on the supernatural dimension. And I think that’s part of what heats up the dialogue. Example: Read example of Asimov from Science Held Hostage, p.ÿ131. For one thing, there is not “consistent picture” science has painted on the matter of randomness. But secondly, you see how he has elevated these “laws” to the level of deity? His assumption here seems to be that once we observe a process, like gravity, then no more explanation is necessary, which is simply untrue. Like I said before, scientific observations of processes like gravity further the mysteries. We realize there is something beyond these laws upon which even they depend.

Therefore science and the Bible compliment one another.

This is why it is that the statements, “Evolution is a fact,” and “God created all living things,” are not contradictions. In fact, they they are complimentary. They explain one another. As Christians, we believe that God created a universe of such energy and diversity and adaptability, that such a process as evolution could take place! Example: In the Christian view, you could almost picture God as a gardner, who takes a lot of pleasure in his garden. So, he has planted a number of things. And, in the Christian view, he still tends the garden. But there are also numerous things happening all the time that can be explained without the direct intervention of the gardner. Example: Jesus said in Matt.ÿ5:45 that God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the wicked, and he causes the rain to fall without partiality. Well, in fact we know today that there are natural processes involved in all that. And they have been well-documented. But that does not mean God is not involved! And the biblical position is that God, as the founder and maintainer of all things, can be refered to as the one who makes things happen, and yet we acknowledge that the means he uses to do these things are natural processes.

“After their kind” is a general statement

Secondly, we need to realize that the refrain “after their kind” is a very general statement. Some people take this to mean that the different animals and plants reproduce after their kind. So they conclude Genesisÿ1 means you cannot have evolution between species or something. But, it just doesn’t say “species”, does it? It is possible that this statement is saying something about how animals and plants give rise to similar animals and plants. And remember, there is quite a bit of evidence to say that periodically new families were introduced into creation. So, this very well could be the hand of God. I’ll state my personal position at this point. And that is that God has intervened on occassion and “planted” (to go back to the gardner metaphor) new types of plants and animals. And they, in turn, multiplied into diverse forms. But, there’s something else we need to understand about this statement. And that is, it has theologically important motives. The author is trying to set up a contrast in the course of this narrative. On the one hand, animals, birds, fish, and everything reproduces after its kind. And this is repeated again and again to drive the point home. But then, God creates man. And he creates man, not after his kind, but in the image of God! What this means is that all of creation is on one level, and man is on another. We are distinct from the rest of creation in that we carry the image of God. Later in ch.ÿ2, the image of God is described as receiving God’s Spirit. It probably has to do with personalness, etc. Here’s the point: No matter what evolved or didn’t evolve, mankind as he is now, required the direct intervention of God. Because a spiritual dimension doesn’t evolve. Personalness doesn’t evolve. Love doesn’t evolve. The way we are now, according to the Bible, is the result of God’s intervention.

Conclusion

What I’m saying here is that when you distill what you can actually say for sure from both the Bible and science, there aren’t real problems on the matter of evolution. The Bible allows for processes to be present in the world, and yet say that God is behind them. Most of the debate is from careless people who over-extend what either the Bible or science can affirm, and then inflate the rhetoricÿ.ÿ.ÿ.

The earth’s age

Secondly, I want to turn to a related issue, the matter of the earth’s age. First, we need to clarify the problem.

Bishop Usher

If you go to OSU, or you read any popular book on geology, then the first person who comes up in connection with the creation account is who? Bishop Usher.ÿ.ÿ. And the date he came up with was that the creation occured 4036 years before Christ. In fact, later the principal of Cambridge University, later refined this to the week of Oct.ÿ16, 4004 B.C. And this is thrown in your face, “Well, this is the Christian view! Now we can go on to the scientific viewÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” (By the way, this kind of speculation was right in line with the understanding of the day! That was the level of their understanding, what can we say? I certainly wouldn’t want science and all scientists to be ridiculed because early biologists speculated flies spontaneously generated out of meat!) In fact, I don’t agree with Bishop Usher. And I don’t know anyone who does! No matter how you slice it, his calculations were wrong.ÿ.ÿ. Missing generations, etc.ÿ.ÿ.

Creation Research

Nevertheless, the geneologies can only be stretched so far. So some try to bring the geological record into line with their reading of the biblical record. They try to support the view that we are living in a very young earth. One group that has done the most thorough job of this is the Creation Research Foundation. These are the people who have founded the whole movement known as “Scientific Creationism.” I told you that some naturalistic scientists have over-stepped their bounds and used science to draw conclusions about the supernatural or spiritual dimension. The error that these people make is much the same. They bring their beliefs into the realm of scientific enquiry, and unfortunately, seem to be willing to do just about anything to make the data fit their beliefs. You will hear that the sediment layers of the Grand Canyon were deposited in a few days because of Noah’s flood. (Of course, those are not the only type of sedimentation. There are living forms of sedimentation, such as barrier reefs and carbonate platforms. The layers of sedimentation here depend on seasonal growing cycles. In other words, a layer of organisms needs to grow, flourish and die before you deposit one layer. And some of these carbonate platforms [e.g. the Bahama Banks] extend 10 k. deep! They are so deep that they cause the oceanic crusts to bend and warp to support them. [source: Earth and Life Through Time by Steven Stanley. W. H. Freeman & Co. 1986, p. 96]) You will hear that stars were created with their light-beams in placeÿ.ÿ.ÿ. Well, the point is, I can’t identify with this particular group of folks. And I find it most unfortunate that they’re so vocal. Because when people think of the Christian view of the earth’s age, they refer to these folks. Example: I watched a NOVA special on this last winter, and the entire Christian point of view was taken up with these folks. What a shame, is all I can say. Suggest book, Science Held Hostage.

Interpreting Gen. 1

Let me just conclude here by showing you how I understand Gen.ÿ1.

The “Days” are certainly not 24-hr. periods

First of all, we need to realize that the term “day” here is used quite loosely, much like we use the same term. We use the term in different ways ourselves–sometimes refering to “day-light,” sometimes an epic, like “day of the horse and buggy.” I want you to realize that interpreters have recognized this for centuries. And one reason is the evidence to support it right in the passage. It is obvious that a great deal of flexibility is being used with the term “day” because in ch.2 we have a recap of some of the events of the 6th day. And if you read ch.2 you’ll see that quite a bit of time elapsed on this “day”.

“The heavens and earth”

First of all, we need to realize that the term, “heavens and earth is a very common couplet which refers to “everything.” In essence, verse one says, “God created everything.” So, contrary to some people’s understanding of Genesisÿ1, the whole thing has already been created by the time vs.ÿ1 is over! People in their interpretation don’t really come to terms with this fact. I can’t tell you how frequently this couplet is used to describe everything that is–literally dozens of times throughout both the Pentateuch and the OT as a whole. So, the whole world is created in v.ÿ1. Then, the attention shifts to the “earth” in v.ÿ2. Now the term “earth” is the Hebrew term `erets. And it is translated “earth” here, but throughout the rest of the Pentateuch, it is translated “land.”

The perspective of the people

Now, we need to refresh ourselves on the perspective of these people. Where were they? They were in the wilderness, waiting for God to give them the land. But, what’s more, in the course of Genesis, the term `erets, “land,” is used many many times to refer to the land that God promised Abraham. And we’ll see this starting in Gen.ÿ12. But that was a central part of the heritage of these people. They were heirs of Abraham, and therefor heirs of the promise to inherit the land. So, for these people, the land was a central focus and a big idea. When they heard the term `eretz, they would think of a different picture than we. Namely, they would think of the land that God was giving them.

tohu wabohu

Well, it says here that the “land” was “formless and void.” Well, it’s kind of interesting the term that is used here. It’s kind of a limrick term: tohu wabohu. The interpretations of this couplet are endless. But we ought to give the most weight to what these Jewish people, wondering around in the wilderness would have thought. Interestingly, this couplet comes up one other time, and it happens to be in the Pentateuch. In Deut.ÿ32:10, Moses uses tohu wabohu to refer to the desert that the Israelites wondered around in for 40 years! “This is tohu wabohu!” And from there, God goes on to prepare the land for human habitation–a land which was tohu wabohu, hospitable only to scorpions, snakes and lizards.

Preparation of the land

So, I see Gen. 1, not as the creation of the entire universe, but as a description of how God prepared the world for human habitation. Since it is not about the creation of the entire world, and only about how God prepared the land, which he owns, for human habitation, then the events of Gen.ÿ1 are events which could have occurred quite recently. And they may have been in 7 relatively short epochs, as this record states. This would allow for an undetermined amount of time to pass previous to that. And it says virtually nothing about the processes he used to create the various life-forms.

What does this say?

Now, before we conclude, we need to think about what it is that we are saying here. We’re saying that the author is concerned with portraying God as the creator, the shaper of the land–the land in which he was going to place humankind.

God’s sovereignty

In essence, what we’re looking at in Genesis 1 is a message about God’s sovereignty. It says, “God owns this place and not you. It says, “God is God, and you aren’t.” It’s the same message that Tom talked about last week as he addressed the thorny issue of God’s sovereignty. As I said at the beginning, the stakes are very high in this debate. Because if the evidence pointed towards naturalistic evolution, then we would never have to worry about a sovereign God and his claims on our lives. On the other hand, if the evidence points towards an ultimate source, then we are confronting a God who is so powerful, he could give rise to this entire universe. I think this has implications not just for non-Christians who don’t believe in God, but also for us Christians. Example: The people in ancient times used to shrink God into something controllable and understandable by making idols. They were small gods. Gods that the right ritual or trick could control. But this is no bygone era. It’s what we do to God too. Example: We make up a God, who kind of hovers around the building with stained glass on the corner. And you appease him by showing up once a week to sing songs and give some money! But then the rest of your life is yours! What a keen invention! God in a box, like jack in the box. Gen. 1 says the fact is, God owns everything. He owns you and me. He owns the whole world. And if we could sum up the central message of the Bible, it would be that we, as humans need to recognize that and come to him on those terms. Now, if you don’t believe God exists, that’s one thing. I would love to dialogue about that. But if you do believe in God’s existence, isn’t something out of place when we still run the show? Isn’t something wrong when we are the gods of our own lives? This is what the Bible calls “sin.” You can call it whatever you want. I’m not partial to any term. I like to think of it as self-will and pride myself. But the Bible says that we need to come to God and admit that this is the way we are, and receive his forgiveness. That’s right, forgiveness. If you have a hard time with that concept, then you haven’t comprehended who we’re talking about. Example: Now, if some one of you came up here and said, “Buck, I really need you to forgive me for not listening to you, and just not paying attention to you.” I would say, “Look, you and 5 billion other people. Don’t lose any sleep over it.” But that’s me. Don’t think of God in terms of another human. It truly is out of line to reject the sovereignty of the sovereign God. And, for that, the Bible contends we need to come to God in humility and receive his forgiveness. And this forgiveness has been bought for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. So, if we do come to God with an attitude of humility and seek his forgiveness. He will not only give us this, but he will restore a relationship between ourselves and him that ought to be thereÿ.ÿ.ÿ. And he really is a God of love, so this shouldn’t be too painfulÿ.ÿ.ÿ.

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