Science in Christian Perspective


Review of Ramm, The Christian View of Science

and Scripture, on Anthropology

Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

From: JASA 7 (December 1956): 4-7.     Response by Ramm

From the anthropological point of view, Ramm is well read and achieves a nice balance of emphasis with regard to the questions of racial unity and antiquity. Capturing the essence of scientific as well as theological teaching on the unity of the human race, introductory to considerations of its antiquity, he makes the observation that "The sin of Adam imputed to humanity depends on the unity of humanity, not on the antiquity of humanity." (P. 308)

The discussion of the age of man is limited to the consideration and disposal of several incorrect notions about the study of fossil man, (including a very sensible treatment of the Piltdown fraud), and a brief consideration of Ussher's chronology. illustrative of Ramm's position is his belief that "the anthropologists are generally correct in their dating of man," and that as far as the Bible is concerned "we must admit that any date of the antiquity of man is an inference from the Scripture, not a plain declaration of Scripture." (P. 314)

Regarding one of the "Incorrect notions" Ramm points out that

The hyperorthodox creates the impression that the study of fossil man is filled with guesses, surmises, and fanciful reconstructions to the degree that the entire procedure is very unscientific though carried on by scientists in the name of science. (P. 310) . . . he has no idea of the amount of knowledge scientists have of bones, human and primate, and how much they can tell from a bone. Hundreds of facts are known about the dentition of man and monkeys, and the amount of information deducible from a jaw bone is nothing short of fantastic. (P. 313) The anthropologist cannot be discounted any longer on the grounds that all he has to work with is a basketful of controversial bones. . . We are now sure that there are fossils of man in places where they were not washed up nor covered up in some superficial drift but are part of a datable geological sequence. (P. 309, emphasis Ramm's).

It is time Creationists realized this situation. Too many are still considering the fossil men as "fictitious monstrosities" and holding to the faulty notion that anyone who accepts them as facts is automatically capitulating to the evolutionary hypothesis. The general reaction in Christian circles to the Piltdown affair was indicative of this. I quote Ramm's concluding paragraph:

The real issue is this: are the sciences of anthropology and geology working with reliable methods? Because the first two efforts of immunization against polio failed, is all medical science discredited? To what extent does one or a dozen mistakes discredit any science? The point is this: (i) we do not discredit other sciences wholesale because of even sizeable blunders, and (ii) the Piltdown hoax was discovered by the use of scientific methods. The hyperorthodox are enjoying the exposure of the hoax only because of the reliability of the scientific methods employed and the honesty of the scientists. The real meaning of the Piltdown hoax is not that a prop has been pulled out from under the evolutionary theory, but that the methodology of the sciences is trustworthy. The exposure was only possible because of the methodology employed.

To put it very plainly: if the anthropologists and geologists cannot be trusted, we cannot even trust the exposure of the hoax! (Pp. 312-313, emphasis Ramm's.)

Next the discussion turns to a sampling of various beliefs about man's origin, or the nature and time of his creation. The author critically examines several presuppositions of one extreme or another: the Ussherites; those who believe that fossil man was preAdamic and different from Biblical man; Brunner's position; various forms of theistic evolution; and finally the position held by Smalley and Fetzer, that

Adam is as old as the anthropologists say man is. . . . God made man directly several hundred thousand
years ago. (P. 326)

This seems to be the position which at once makes the most sense scientifically, and necessitates, the least amount of interpolation Scripturally. Warfield's statement, quoted by Ramm, is that "(The antiquity of the human race) has of itself no theological significance. It is to theology, as such, a matter of entire indifference how long man has existed on the earth," though directly opposed to the propositions of many who argue for the recency of man, can hardly be challenged on Scriptural grounds.

On the Origin of Races and Languages, Dr. Ramm treats two important subjects. First, the question of the derivation of all races from Noah, and second, the question of the derivation of all languages from the Tower of Babel.

The discussion of these questions relates closely to the author's conclusions on the flood and its extent as far as man is concerned. Briefly, Ramm's position is that the flood was a local one, a position which, he states, 1most of the recent conservative scholarship of the church defends." George F. Wright's article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia may well be cited as a standard reference for this position. Raturn goes one step farther, however, in his acceptance of the view that the flood needn't have constituted a judgment on all of mankind.

If the flood is local though spoken of in universal terms, so the destruction of man is local though spoken of in universal terms. (P. 239)

There is a body of geological and paleonthological data advanced in some evangelical quarters in support of this position, but the particular line of reasoning followed in this cause by Ramm seems rather inconclusive. The only factors supporting the conclusion are (a) "The record neither affirms nor denies that man existed beyond the Mesopotamian valley," (p. 239), (b) ". . . there is evidence for the existence of man many thousands of years before the flood" in Africa, India, China, and America, (pp. 239-40, emphasis mine), and (c) "If the evidence is certain that the American indian was in America around 8000 B. C. to 10,000 B. C., then . , . a universal destruction of man must be before that time, and due to Genesis and Babylonian parallelsl there is hardly an evangelical scholar who wishes to put the flood as early as 8000 B. C. to 10,000 B. C." (P. 336). Two comments seem to be called for at this point. First, that in claiming man's existence on other continents "before the flood" Ramm is assuming the time of the flood to be relatively recent and relatively settled; and secondly, it is not clear, from Ramm's discussion nor from Wright's, just what the Genesis and Babylonian parallels1 have to do with the flood's being necessarily later than 10,000 B. C. Certainly it occurred before the writing of the tablets and of Genesis, but there seems to be no reason why, from Ramm's data, it could not have been much earlier than the dispersal of mankind to America, and thus be interpreted as including all of man, even though limited geographically.

One important consideration to remember is that if all mankind was judged by the flood, It had to be before the Americas were populated. Had the loo

submerged a populated America there would be evidence of a pre-Indian physical type somewhere in North or South America. We can be sure that if the present Indians have descended from Noah, they would certainly be racially different from any "American" predecessors, simply from the length of time necessary between one occupation and the other. Genetic variation would have precluded any chance of two even closely similar races appearing with that much time between them. All archeological evidence to date has revealed only one basic racial type of American Aborigine-prehistoric or historic, namely, the modern Indian type.2 Therefore, there appear to be two alternative positions: (a) that the flood occurred considerably longer ago than is generally admitted, in order to allow for subsequent dispersal of the American Indian from Ararat to the length and breadth of the Western Hemisphere by at least 10,000 years ago; or (b) that the flood was not a judgment on all of mankind. Ramin holds the latter, presuming that only the Caucasian races need be descended from Noah; and similarly, only the Caucasians' languages, the primitive Indo-European stock, need be derived from the dispersal from the Tower of Babel. (P. 340)

1 would like, now, to examine briefly Dr. Ramm's view of theistic evolution as revealed in his consideration of it as one of the five possible presuppositions as to the origin of man (pp. 315-331), which is based upon his discussion of the subject in the chapter on Biology. In the Epilogue the summary allegation is made that:

"It is not true that all evangelicals believe that evolution is contrary to the Faith. Most Fundamentalists and evangelicals are opposed to evolution, to be sure, but we have given evidence to show that men whose orthodoxy is unimpeachable have accepted some form of theistic evolution or at least were tolerant toward evolution theistically conceived." (pp. 345-348)

While I substantially agree with the allegation, I would suggest that it is a dangerous one to make with ut a much narrower set of criteria for defining a "theistic evolutionist" than Ramm chooses to set up. If "the issue is between fiat creation and theistic evolutionary creation" (p. 282 fn.), then the problem may be viewed in terms of a controversy over origins alone. In this view of theistic evolution, the Roman Catholic Church is a primary example, "not pledged to any theory as to the secondary causations for the origin of life. It tolerates either evolution or special creation . . ."
(p. 283). Ranim refers here to the Catholic scholar J. A. Zahm. Here too would belong protestant men like W. N. Rice, (p. 284) ; J. C. Jones, James Orr, and C. W. Shields, (p. 286) ; L. F. Gruber, (p. 287) ; A. R. Short, (p. 287,8) ; and Albertus Pieters, (p. 288). All these men are, in one way or another, attempting to reconcile either the origin of life, or the ort . gin of man as the then current form of the evolutionary theory presented them, with their interpretation of the scriptural account.3

I would like to call attention, however, to a distinction which Dr. Ramm does not make, between this view of theistic evolution and the view of some which Ramm includes in the same broad category. While the view described above may be seen in terms of the problems of origins, there are those whose concern is merely with the problems of process and development and who are not rightly called "theistic evolutionists". Among them are James McCash, ("There is nothing irreligious in the idea of development." Ramm, p. 285) ; R. A. Torrey, (". . . applied within limits to the animal world," Ramm, p. 287); R. L. Mixter, ("As a creationist I am willing to accept the origin of species f rom other species. . ." Ramm, p. 288) ; W. L. Bullock, (". . . it is ill advised to champion the cause of fixity of species under the banner of Christianity." Ranim, p. 289) ; and J. W. Dawson, (... no objection to it if understood to mean the development of the plans of the Creator in nature." Ramm, p. 285. ". . . it is plain that revelation gives us no definition of species as di stingui shed from varieties or races, so that there is nothing to prevent the supposition that, within certain limits indicated by the expression 'after its kind', animals or plants may have been so constituted as to vary greatly in the progress of geological time." Ramm, p. 289 f n.) ; all of whom Ramm lists in the same general category as those previously mentioned.

Summarizing on page 289, Dr. Ramm says, "To this point we have shown that evolution with all necessary qualifications has been adopted into both the Catholic and Protestant evangelical theology. . ." (Emphasis mine.) But he goes on to say without qualifying the term, that "The charge that evolution is antichristian and that theistic evolution is not a respectable position, is very difficult to make good in view of the evidence we have here given." (Pp. 289290.) Thereafter lie use,, "evolution" in reference to "theistic evolutionists" without always specifying their 11 necessary qualifications." I submit that the abovementioned "charge" is not "difficult to make good" if these distinction,; between the two are kept in mind.

Those whose preoccupation is with origins, I believe, may properly be called "theistic evolutionists". This is essetialtv a head-in-the-sand position and has been traditionally an intellectual no-man's land, holding the respect neither of the scientists nor of the majority of Fundamentalists. With specific reference to the origin of man, they are characterized by Ramm as "Those who . . . tack man's origin on to their general belief In theistic evolution and believe that at a certain point a pre-human became L human, and that was Mr. Adam." (P. 322.)

But these indictments certainly do not apply to those who hold, with the men cited in the second category, that the hereditary processes of genetics, and the geological processes of prehistory are scientific and open to investigation and provide a valid explanation for the variety in nature-paleontological series and present varieties alike-but who do not believe in any evolutionary explanation of the origin of either life or man. One might just as logically call them "theistic speciationists" or believers in "theistic Mendelism" or "theistic stratigraphy". Genetics and geology have played a big part in the expression of the evolutionary hypothesis but they neither one, nor in combination, constitute evolution. Both can be considered entirely independently of evolution. Dr. Ramm knows this, of course, and does not begin to go as far as some who categorize anyone who admits of any process at all in God's creative activity as automatically a theistic evolutionist. One might as logically call a Christian weather forecaster a "theistic meteorologist" because he believes the laws which God created operate as observed, when non-christian observers believe and rely upon the same law!

Whatever else may be said of Ramm's treatment of anthropological problems in the Christian view of science and scripture, it cannot be said that he lacks evidence of an industrious and conscientious ef fort not only to become familiar with present-day anthropology as it relates to Biblical questions, but to acquaint himself with a host of representative Christian opinion from both the well informed, as well as the uninformed authors in the field.

There is nothing in his text that this reviewer can detect which would warrant the accusations that it "embodies a number of drastic departures from the standard of faithfulness to the Word of God," or that it is "Dangerously slipshod and inaccurate," or that "this is a desperately bad book." Such statements have accompanied reviews which have largely missed the intent of the author and have thus, in many specific instances, taken him quite out of context. But then, Dr. Ramm can expect to be sharply criticized by those "hyperorthodox" whom he so severely indicts. They exhibit the negative, reactionary type of mind which does not analyze what is actually written, but revolts at the impact of first impressions. One is tempted to conclude that the mind was made up that "this is a desperately bad book," before it (or the mind) was ever opened.

1. He refers here to twelve Gilgamesh tablets discovered in 1872 by George Smith, the eleventh of which describes a Babylonian flood. See pp. 247-249.

2. Some discrepancy, seemingly straight out of the New Yorker magazine, is noted in Ranim's several references to the antiquity of the American Indians. On page 317 "lie has been here for about 20,000 Years according to some estimates." Ten pages later we must consider the possibility of man being in America "as early as 10,000 B.C.", and also "nuist keep in mind the date of arrival of the American Indian in America ;(about 8000 B.C.)".

3. Dr. Ramm is careful to point, however, that all of these authors do not agree on the implications of such a theory of origins. For example: "Orr does not tolerate any weakening of the doctrine of sin and guilt because of man's evolutionary origin: 'Nor can I agree with those theologians who, sometimes with a light heart, make capitulation of the whole position to the evolutionist, and accept the consequences in a weakened doctrine of the origin of sin and guilt'." Ramm, p. 325; Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, 1897, p. 158.

Aug. 20, 1955

Dear Brother Buswell:

I appreciated much your review and correspondence enclosed. The book will have served a good purpose if it does nothing else but drive our evangelical forces to a more careful and thorough study of scientific problems. I trust that my book means that a man may no longer write in the Rimmer-Sanden tradition even though they may agree with their conclusions.

Concerning your own review may I make the following suggestions:

(i). Page 4, re the flood and Babylonian parallels. I am maintaining here that something must be said as to the Babylonian parallel. Believe that common oral tradition was handed down for 5,000 years so that the Babylonians had received it, or what you will. The parallels between Genesis and Babylonian materials is too close to be sheer accident or verbal coincidence.

(ii). p. 5, re only a part of humanity eliminated in the flood. I would appreciate a comment here that this is not de novo my idea, but as I cite in the text, it was held by Dawson more than 60 years ago.

(iii). p. 7, etc Perhaps the better word (than "theistic evolutionist") here would be "developmentalists." I guess Mixter has come in for some criticism of his use of "micro-evolution" for I note in recent exposition lie drops it. Thus there would be "theistic evolutionists" and theistic developmentalists."

(iv). p. 9, fn. 2. My original MS read 20,000 all the way through. Then Kulp called my attention to the f act that radio-carbon dating had pulled these dates down to around 10,000 B.C. Now it is true that some do estimate man's coming to America at 20,000 B.C. At least at the time of my research and that is why I put in "according to some." The real contradiction is between the 8,000 and 10,000 dates.

Thanks again for your interest and sympathy with my general position. With some of the very mean criticisms I have been receiving, it is a comfort to get some Amens from solidly evangelical men. From the book reviews I gather that the book is getting a better reception in Britain than here. A special British edition is coming out shortly.