Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Reply to Book Review of The Bible, Natural Science and Evolution
Russell W. Maatman
Department of Chemistry Dordt College Sioux Center, Iowa

From: JASA 23 (December 1971): 157-158 

Two things about Dr. Bube's review I like. He does say some nice things. And I do wish I could turn a phrase as well as Dr. Bube does. It isn't everyone who can produce polysyllabic punches like "quasilogical, multi-hypothetical, face-all-the-possibilities."

Time after time Bube does not reflect accurately what I said. It is not practical to quote my book as much as I would like in refutation of what he says. I do, however, want to discuss four questions in connection with the review.

1.  It would be very easy to discredit what I wrote if I implied (as Bube suggests I imply) that we must choose between "believing science" and "believing the Bible". In fact, I put heavy emphasis in the book on the idea that conflict between the Bible and science, both perfectly understood, is impossible. Our understanding is not perfect, and so the situation is just as Buhe says it is: We must work with someone's interpretation of the Bible and (he seems to say) someone's interpretation of scientific data.

We cannot leave the matter at that point, as if we can never know anything. In my book I discussed specific eases. I believe that each ease that arises should be discussed on its own merits, and that with each ease we should examine both the Bible and science. (Of course, we are not to hold off all conclusions until all the evidence is in-at the end of time-and we are to understand the context of questions being asked in understanding the approach I suggest. Furthermore, we might in the future have a better interpretation of the Bible and scientific data. Such a possibility can hardly he a reason for saying nothing at the present time.) Such an approach is probably seen by Christians as the correct approach. Yet the method of examining both the Bible and science is not used enough. Instead, we see over and over in the present discussion of this question an argument that runs something as follows: "Modern scientific results have proved that [insert here: "the earth is not flat", "the three-story universe does not exist", "devils cannot possess a person", or another similar statement], and yet the Bible states that [insert here: "the earth is flat", "the universe consists of three stories", "devils can possess a person", etc.] Therefore, the Bible cannot be used in scientific questions. We must conclude that the Bible speaks to us only about our faith, and not about our science."

In such an argument there is no serious attempt to examine both the Bible and science. Instead, real or supposed scientific conclusions are used to limit what the Bible can tell us. In my book it is suggested
that there are answers to the argument given in the previous paragraph. It can he shown that the Bible cannot state that the earth is flat or that the universe is three-storied. It can he shown that modern scientific results cannot preclude the possibility that devils did indeed possess certain persons. My disagreement is with those who wish to discard either parts of the Bible by using science, or parts of science by using the Bible. (For some reason, no one has yet answered my rather detailed discussion of the three-story universe question.) We ought to discuss these matters, and we ought in all seriousness and good faith to go forward in an effort to see the Bible in the light of science and science in the light of the Bible, with the belief that both are ultimately infallible and without error.

2. Buhe attempts to make quite a point out of the (correct) idea that Biblical miracles have redemptive significance. lIe suggests that it is therefore incorrect to speak of miracles in connection with events some of us believe took place instead of the evolutionary process. In a sense he is correct. But what term should one use if he wants to discuss the concepts of creationfrom-nothing and the instantaneous production of a living thing thing from something different? Surely "miracle" best approximates what is meant.

3. Bube implies that I admit "kind" is not an accurate term, but that I conclude the term is definite enough to preclude the possibility of evolution of one kind from another. He gives only part of the story and thereby changes the sense of what was said. I said, "Perhaps, given only our present know/edge, 'kind' cannot be defined accurately." (p. 134) (I have for the present purpose italicized the words not quoted by Buhe.) The limitation concerning "kind" is only on our present knowledge. The quoted sentence occurs in a discussion in which it was shown that "kind" was a definite, a precise, concept for Noah and for the Israelites. This is part of the argument used to show that kind-to-kind evolution did not occur. Suppose someone read Bube's review but not the book, Would he understand that in the book I offered Biblical proofs that "kind" was once a precise concept?

4. Bube may, of course, define theistic evolution in his own way. But surely he is aware of the many discussions over the years concerning whether or not the "dust" of Gen. 2:7 was organic (which means "living" to many people) or "inorganic". The question in these discussions would not arise in quite the same way if theistic evolutionists generally identified, as Bubo suggests, "dust" with the matter from which life evolved through the various stages. In any event, the question of what theistic evolutionists mean by "dust" is not essential to my argument.

It seems to me that Bube stumbles in one important place. One thing in particular he ought to explain. He says man's soul is produced "as a continuous evolutionary process." It would not be difficult to prove from Bube's writings that he considers man, but not the animal precursers of man he thinks existed, to be the hearer of the image of God Man can sin; animals cannot. In holding to this position, Bube seems to believe that man is qualitatively different from animals. Assuming that we are to use the words "continuous" and "qualitatively different" in a precise fashion, I would like to know how a qualitative change can take place by a continoous process, a process which must be-if words mean anything-a process involving only a series of quantitative changes.*

In this connection, Bube ton easily discounts the interpretation I gave to Gen. 2:7, describing the creation of man. lIe discounts my interpretation because of other elements in the passage, such as the account of the talking serpent. In Numbers 22-24 we are told how the Israelites were saved on the plains of Moab. Are we to take the story as symbolic because in the story there is a talking donkey?

Theistic evolutionists have the same problem here that they have with the idea of the instantaneous creation of animals from non-living matter. They are certain such a creation cannot be the kind of creation referred to in Genesis 1, even though such a rapid transformation is described in Exodus 4 as Moses' rod became a serpent. With both the talking serpent and the creation of animals it seems better to the theistic evolutionists to put the first chapters of Genesis in a category different from the rest of the Bible.

Dr. Bube and I know each other quite well, and we have discussed many of these matters face to face. I am sure he has enjoyed these discussions as much as I have. And so I shall be thinking not only of what he has said in personal discussions, but also of what he has written, I am afraid that I shall keep thinking of the terrifying bull-in-a-china-shop which Bube describes. The reader of Buhe's review will note that his bull (which he discusses after he is finished with Anselm) is much more dangerous than the usual kind of bull. His bull, as he describes it, not only thrashes about; it also wields a sledge hammer.**

*Transformation of water to steam by continuous increase of temperature? RHB
**We all get carried away. Forget the sledge hammer. RHB.