Science in Christian Perspective



Some Implications of Evolution for A.S.A.

From: JASA 12 (September 1960): 12-13.                   Response by Cassel, Hartzler

At two recent annual conventions of our American Scientific Affiliation (at Gordon College and Divinity School, 1957, and at Iowa State College, 1958) there appeared to be a growing conviction that inexorable pressure of expanding knowledge is about to force us to accept some formulation of the theory of evolution, including the evolutionary origin of man, and that we must adjust -our thinking in accordance with this eventuality. Naturally, if evolution has become established beyond a reasonable doubt, we must accept -it even though it means that we have to make an "agonizing reappraisal" of our interpretation of Scripture.

There are a number of difficult, if not insoluble, problems involved in trying to harmonize the theory of the evolutionary origin of man with the account of the creation of man as found in the Bible.

In the first place, the Biblical account clearly implies that man was a special creation of God, climaxing His creative work in which He made the heavens and the earth. To be sure, Genesis 2:7 reads: "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and became a living being." Some seem to feel that the words, "formed man of dust from the ground," can be interpreted in terms of an evolutionary process spanning millions of years. Whether or not this is regarded as an acceptable interpretation, there is a still greater difficulty involved in the account of the creation of Eve. This story is told in Genesis 2:2t, 22 in the following words: "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man." As Dr. R. Laird Harris pointed out at the convention at Gordon, these words quite clearly describe a specific act of creation in an apparently brief moment of time. The wording used in describing the creation of Eve would make harmonization with the theory of evolution most difficult.

A second difficulty is the Biblical teaching that the whole human race is descended from one man and one won-tan-Adam, and Eve. It is difficult to imagine an evolutionary process that would culminate in the development of one viable pair. It would be much more reasonable to expect such a process to result in the production of a more or less widespread population.

In the third place there is the matter of the antiquity of man. The working of the genealogy in the fifth chapter of Genesis as presented in the English translation would certainly justify Usher in assuming that he could determine the date of the creation of Adam by figuring back to the event. This genealogy is expressed in terms of unbroken succession of father and son from Adam to Noah. Possibly the original Hebrew language permits other interpretations. In any case, there are conservative scholars who believe that there are gaps of unknown duration in this genealogy and that these gaps push the date of Adam back far earlier than Ussher's estimate. However, it's hard to see how any intellectually tenable gaps could push the date of Adam back 100,000 and more years to a time when anthropologists and evolutionists claim that early man lived upon earth.

The foregoing paragraphs indicate three apparent discrepancies between the theory of the evolutionary development of man and the Scriptural account of his origin in a special creative act -of God. These points are briefly outlined and there has been no attempt to present an exhaustive study of the problem. However, perhaps enough has been pointed out -to indicate that very serious disagreement exists between the two. The following discussion is based upon two crucial "ifs." If evolution is now a solidly established scientific law which must be accepted and if evoltion cannot be harmonized with the Biblical story then what is to be our attitude toward the Bible?

Can we dismiss the problem by assuming that the early chapters of Genesis are somehow of a lower order of inspiration than other parts of the Bible? If there are any reasons for assigning inferior authority to these passages they certainly are not generally known to reasonably well-informed laymen. However, the problem would not be solved by such an assumption because other passages of Scripture base teachings upon the story of the creation of man and by inference place their endorsement upon it. The following are a few examples -of such teachings. The genealogy of Jesus as given in the third chapter of Luke traces His ancestry -back to Adam. "The son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God" (Luke 3:38). A number -of passages teach that the sin of one man, Adam, passed a heritage of sin upon the entire human race. The following quotations are typical of this teaching. "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned-sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type Of one who was to come" (Roma:ns 5:12-14). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ Shall all he made alive" (I Corinthians 15 :22). The creation of Eve subsequent to the creation of Adam is also the basis of a New Testament teaching as found in I Timothy 2:12, 13: "1 permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve." Thus it would appear that any doubts cast upon the authority -of the story of creation would, by inference, also be cast upon many other passages of Scripture.

Perhaps we can resolve the difficulty by assuming that the story of the creation was written in picturesque figurative language and was never meant to be taken literally. It was, perhaps, a poetic "Psalm of the Creation." This solution to the problem would seem to set a dangerous precedent of "explaining away" troublesome passages of Scripture. What passages are meant to be interpreted literally and what figuratively?

Another possibility would be to consider that the Biblical writers wrote their messages in terms of the scientific theories and superstitions of their days and that any such scientific allusions can be ignored. Such a proposition could logically be extended to a similar assumption that these same writers also expressed their messages in terms of the moral and cultural patterns of their times, and that many problems dealt with have no application to us in this modern day and age. These suggestions would be equivalent to saying that "the Bible contains the Word of God" instead of "the Bible is the Word -of God." This would mean that God has revealed Himself to man in a book written in terms of discredited science and outmoded cultural patterns. Acceptance of such a proposition would put a great responsibility on the Biblical scholar to search out the eternal revelation of God from among the temporal encumbrances.

On the basis -of the two big "ifs"; if evolution is established and must be accepted, and if it cannot be harmonized with the Scriptures, some consequences in the field of Biblical interpretation have been suggested. All of the suggestions are apparently contrary to A.S.A. traditions and are doubtless contrary to our doctrinal statement. No solution to the problem of fitting acceptance of evolution into the framework of traditional A.S.A. beliefs regarding the harmony of science and the Scriptures has been found in the course of this study. It is therefore necessary ,to conclude this discussion with a question instead of an affirmation. Is harmonization possible, and if so, how?