Last month I outlined how writing anything on creation and evolution is controversial and that I realised I was exposing myself to attack from one side or another - or maybe from every side! But I’m convinced that Christians who disagree should be discussing the issues in a loving, gentle, humble way rather than attacking each other. So here are four more things you need to know about the creation/evolution debate - to add to the six from last month. Wherever you’re coming from on this issue, don’t instantly write off things you disagree with, but give them some more thought. If we’re ever going to sort this issue out we have to approach the questions more open-mindedly than perhaps we’ve ever done before.
7. There are good reasons for believing in Special Creation
Special Creationists take the Bible as their fundamental point of reference. Paul Garner says, "I always start with the Scriptures. The Bible is the foundational truth on which I base all of my thinking in science, and I think that's where we need to begin. First and foremost, it's what the Bible reveals about the history of the earth and the universe." Ken Ham agrees saying, "No apparent, perceived, or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record."
But Special Creationists do also point to scientific evidence to support their case. For Paul Garner evidence for Intelligent Design is key: "I think when you look at, for example, DNA, it is a highly ordered code and we can recognise the hallmarks of intelligence. There's information encoded in DNA. And information, from all of our scientific observations, is always a product of mind and intelligence." Another key aspect of Intelligent Design is the 'irreducible complexity' of biological systems. David Tyler adds that "there are limits to [biological] variation. This runs right across the evolutionary position which is that there are no limits. But it seems to me that the data of science points to limits, and that's where we would identify natural boundaries between groups of animals."
There are some notable scientists who are special creationists, including Andy McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics at Leeds University; Edgar Andrews, professor of materials science at the University of London; David Back, Professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at Liverpool; and Professor Terry Hamblin, consultant haematologist at Southampton. Paul Garner, a Fellow of the Geological Society, says that, "Worldwide there are thousands of scientists at PhD level who would identify with this position, and they cover all field of science - biology and geology, even astronomy and cosmology. I think it's a growing movement."
David Tyler also gives three reasons for believing in Young Earth Special Creation from the non-living world: "I would point first of all to the uniqueness of the earth… it is something that points to design and a creator. Secondly, the design of the elements themselves to support life, the way that the building blocks of matter fit together to support life. And the third area is the fine tuning of fundamental constants. They are too finely tuned to be chance. They are designed for life."
However, these latter reasons are actually are shared by Christians right across the spectrum - they support belief in a Creator, not necessarily a particular view of creation.
8. There are good reasons for believing in Process Creation
Denis Alexander says there is an important issue of integrity: "The task of scientists who are Christians is to describe what God has done in creation, and, as part of their worship, to tell the truth about God's creation. Since Darwinian evolution is the best explanation we have at the moment for the origins of biological diversity, as scientists we should say that. We should tell the truth to the best of our ability, always knowing that science is incomplete and there's always lots more to find out."
For Ernest Lucas, studying the early chapters of Genesis within their historical context is crucial: "The opening chapters of Genesis are concerned primarily with teaching us theological truth about God, the nature of God, the nature of the world, our role in the world and so on… I came to that reading of Genesis not from the scientific side but from the years I spent studying ancient near eastern culture and religion." Similarly, Derek Kidner in his Tyndale Commentary, David Atkinson in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Genesis 1-11, Gordon Wenham in his Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1-15, and French theologian Henri Blocher (among others) reject a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 on the basis of the texts themselves, not on the basis of science.
They still recognise essential historical truths, though. Denis Alexander is clear that God endowed Adam and Eve with his Spirit, and that the Fall was a historical event: "It seems to me a Fall implies ethical and moral obligations which is difficult to see could have happened without a command from God. That's what God gave in the garden of Eden, he gave specific commands not to do certain things and they disobeyed his commands."
Most process creationists agree with special creationists that there can be no explanation for the origin of life or of the human spirit without God. Iain Prance, one of the world's most eminent botanists, says, "I'm a believer in evolution because obviously as a scientist who's observing life, I see that it has developed gradually. But there are two things that I think one cannot explain in science. One is the actual beginning of life. No-one's been able to recreate life as such. They've taken bits of what already is life and made other organisms, but they haven't really started it off from the beginning. And the other thing that is certainly true is that at some stage God used a particular organism to give a soul to and created man in his image."
There are many other notable scientists - world leaders in their fields - who are evolutionary creationists. These include people like Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project; Sir John Houghton FRS, former Director General of the Meteorological Office; Prof. Bob White FRS, Professor of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University; and Malcolm Jeeves, Honorary Research Professor of Psychology, University of St. Andrews.
9. Everyone has to live with some tough - maybe unanswerable - questions
For a long time I've suspected that the positions people adopt in this debate has as much to do with the questions we're prepared to live with as with the things we're certain of. This is because many of the issues in creation and evolution are so difficult to completely pin down, and the subject as a whole is too vast for any of us to master every aspect.
For Denis Alexander, "The biggest challenge is the question of theodicy and how a loving God who loves us and his creation would choose to bring about biological diversity, including humankind, by what seems to us a long and difficult process which involves the extinction of more than 99% of all the species and an awful lot of death and suffering along the way." That's not a question which only faces the evolutionary creationist though. The special creationist has to contend with the fact that God has still allowed 99% of all species to die, though in their schema it was due to the flood.
John Bryant, on the other hand, doesn't see species extinction as necessarily a problem: "Is there anything cruel for an individual creature if its species becomes extinct? I can't see that there is… I don't see extinction as a problem that makes God cruel; it's just part of the changing and evolving structure of the universe. There's something very sentimental about people's worrying about it. I would, though, put a very different light on extinctions which have been caused by human activity."
Death is a tricky question for both ends of the spectrum. What does it mean when God tells Adam that, 'in the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall surely die' (Genesis 2:17, ESV) when he clearly doesn't? The evolutionary creationist says that God's words refer only to spiritual death - a world without death before the Fall would have been unsustainable as bacteria would rapidly have taken over. The special creationist will agree that Adam does immediately die spiritually, but insists that physical death entered also the world at that point.
Some aspects of this debate will just go on and on until we reach the new heavens and new earth and we just have to live with it.
10. Controversy means we often miss the main points of Genesis 1-3
The tragedy is that this debate divides Christians and alienates non-Christians. But the issue of human origins raises questions of profound significance and the world desperately needs to hear a Christian perspective.
The real conflict is between Christians who believe in a Creator, and atheists who go beyond evolution as a biological mechanism and turn it into a worldview - evolutionism. According to evolutionism, humans are here by chance and have only one purpose - to pass on their DNA. Richard Dawkins says, "It is every living object's sole reason for living."
Most people feel that there must be more to life than this. But science cannot come up with any other answers - it's about mechanisms not significance. The beginning of Genesis, however, introduces the most transforming set of answers the world has ever heard. These are the chapters that first tell us about God, our world, human nature and our fundamental problem. People need to hear these particular answers - but they won't while all Christians do is squabble over the mechanics and timescales of creation.
We need to understand clearly what the early chapters of Genesis are primarily about. As we've seen already, it is a mistake to approach them looking for scientific answers - it couldn't possibly be what the writer and first readers understood them to be teaching. Those who have extensively studied the creation accounts in their historical and literary contexts insist that their primary function theological: to give God's people a right view of God, the world and humanity, in contrast to the false views of surrounding pagan nations in the Ancient Near East.
Genesis 1-3 teach us six key things everyone needs to understand:
- God is the creator of everything.There is a God, and absolutely everything (the heavens and the earth) owes its existence solely to God's will. The universe didn't create itself and it didn't appear by chance.
- There is only one God.We're unlikely to be tempted into sun or moon worship, but we may look to more contemporary idols like wealth, science, sport, relationships, etc. Nothing within creation is fit to usurp the rightful place of the Creator to whom we owe our life moment by moment.
- The world reflects its creator.The world is orderly (and therefore understandable by rational human beings) and beautiful as well as functional (Genesis 2:9). Paul tells that creation shows us enough about God that there's no excuse for anyone not to believe in him (Romans 1:20).
- God is the law-giver.The universe obeys God. He gave us the responsibility of being stewards of the earth. All created things have a divinely appointed role, and they will only fulfil that role if they obey God's instructions.
- Human beings are God's image bearers. Genesis shows who we really are.
The question of what it means to be human is one of the most fundamental there is. But humanity in our postmodern, secularised world is suffering an identity crisis - people are uncertain about what being human means. Atheist scientists deny that we have any purpose beyond passing on our DNA. We are an accident of history. When we die, we rot. There is nothing more. No life has any real value. And we wonder why so many people have a low self-image? Genesis challenges these assumptions and claims we are God's image bearers - the crowning glory of creation. We are like God - even after the Fall, despite all the corruption and wickedness that pervades us. Being made in God's image includes our self-consciousness, our creativity and aesthetic awareness, our moral responsibility and our relational dimension. But over all these is our awareness of the transcendent - our spirituality - because we were made for a relationship with God.
6. Human beings are rebels against God. Genesis 3 tells the tragic story of how everything changed.
All these aspects of the image of God are still true of us, but our rebellion has demeaned and warped every one of them. So we live in a world of alienation - from God, each other, our environment and even ourselves. We live in a world of fear and shame and lies. We hide from God and from each other. We are under God's judgment. Incredibly, God still cares for his image bearers, and we see the first sign of God's grace as he seeks out the newly fallen couple - 'Where are you?' (Genesis 3:9) - and the first hint that God will sort this mess out - one will come to crush the Tempter's head (Genesis 3:15). The rest of the Bible is the unfolding story of God's judgment and grace until, finally, we see a stunning picture of redeemed people back in relationship with God in new heavens and a new earth.
The big issues in Genesis 1 are not scientific. How much does it really matter if creation was a quick miracle or a slow one? The questions which Genesis 1-3 addresses are much more profound and important. We see there a God of power and creativity and grace. We see what sort of a world we live in. We see what it really means to be human and we see our need for a saviour. That's what the world needs to hear. ??Tony Watkins is managing editor of culturewatch.org and author of Dark Matter - a Thinking fan's guide to Philip Pullman. ?
For further reading
- Denis Alexander and Robert White, Beyond Belief (Lion, 2004)0745951414
- Denis Alexander, Rebuilding the Matrix (Lion, 2001)0745912443
- David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11 (Bible Speaks Today) (IVP, 1990)0851106765
- RJ Berry, God and the biologist - faith at the frontiers of science (Apollos, 1996)0851114466
- Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (IVP, 1984)0851113214
- William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answer ing the Toughest Questions about Intelligent Design, (IVP (USA) 2004)1844740145
- William Dembski, Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (ISI Books, 2004) 1932236317
- Michael Denton, Evolution: a theory in crisis (Woodbine House, 1996) 091756152
- Philip Duce, Reading the mind of God - interpretation in science and theology (Apollos, 1998)0851114628
- Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (IVP, 1993)0830822941
- Derek Kidner, Genesis (TOTC) (IVP, 1967)0851118232
- Kevin Logan, Responding to the Challenge of Evolution (Kingsway, 2002) 1842911104
- Ernest Lucas, Can We Believe Genesis Today? (IVP, 2001)
- Paul Marston and Roger Forster, Reason, Science and Faith (Wipf & Stock, 1998)1854244418
- Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God: genes, memes and the meaning of life (Blackwell, 2004)1405125381
- Andy McIntosh, Genesis for Today: Creation and Evolution (Day One, 2001)1903087155
- Del Ratzsch, Science and its Limits (IVP, 2000)0851114660
- David Swift, Evolution under the Microscope, (Leighton Academic Press)