Science in Christian Perspective
Notes on "Science and the Whole Person -
"A Personal Integration of Scientific and Biblical Perspectives
Creation (B) Understanding Creation and Evolution*
RICHARD 11, BUBE
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford CA 94305
In the previous installment we considered the essentials of the biblical doctrine of creation and saw how these essentials are independent of the specific mechanisms of God's creative activity. In this installment we consider in some detail the interaction between creation and evolution. First, however, we begin by taking a look at Genesis 1 - 3 in order to identify some specific ways in which the Genesis account conveys its teaching on Creation.
Genesis 1 - 3 Reveals Ultimate Truths
Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a provides us with a logical and systematic account of creation.' This account proceeds in a common sense manner to build an environment suitable for man, the end product of God's creative activity. First what is needed is light to do work, then separation of the waters above the firmament from those below, then separation of dry land from the waters, then growth of plants and trees, then assignment of the various heavenly bodies to their tasks as signs for human beings, then fish in the sea, living creatures and animals on the land, and at last the creation of man, male and female, followed by the rest in which to glorify God.
We see a seven-day pattern that follows the religious experience of the people involved. Light is created without the sun, and the sun and moon are not even named, but are called into being midway in the creative process to serve as signs for mankind, to demonstrate that God is sovereign over these, His creations. By declaring God's rule over the waters, His sovereignty over mythological sea deities (remember the Babylonian Tiamat) is emphasized. The plan of creation reaches its climax in the creation of mankind-a unique creation, made in the image of God, male and female.
In Genesis 1, God is commander; in Genesis 2, God is sculptor. An imaginative and symbolic creation account follows in Genesis 2:4b - 2:25. Still there are no contradictions of essence between the two accounts, nor should any be read into them. Genesis 2:7 tells us that man became a living being. Man does not have a soul; man is a living soul.2 Eden represents the whole of the created order free from sin. It reappears in Revelation 21 and 22. A possible interpretation using the form of prophecy is the substitution of a chronological mode of description for an ontological mode: God is not responsible for the real evil that exists in the world-God made the world good and then (in a chronological parable) sin entered the world. Thus the essential separation between the goodness of the world and the reality of sin is maintained. The garden encloses symbolic trees. Life does not come from knowing good and evil; to know evil is to enter into death. Life comes from knowing only God. Genesis 2:18-25 reveals that mankind is superior to the animals, for Adam names them. Man and woman are made uniquely to complement one another. Sex is part of the good creation; shame is the consequence of sin and guilt.
Genesis 3 teaches that the creature is responsible for sin, not the Creator. The sin of man is rebellion, idolatry and disobedience. The consequences of sin are shame, a broken relationship with God, and a broken relationship between man and woman. The curses of Genesis 314-19 are physical signs and symbols of the fall. Still a note of hope remains. God continues to communicate with man and does not cut them off completely. God meets the shame by preparing coverings. Genesis 3:22-24 shows that there is no way back for mankind to Eden on their own. If they are to make it hack to Paradise, it will be by accepting the way that God provides.
These are some of the things that Genesis 1 - 3 teach. None of them depends critically on the specific mechanism or mode of creative activity. What then of evolution? Is this a totally atheistic and anti-biblical view that mutually excludes faith in the God of the Bible? Or is it possible to consider that the process of evolution may ft is a mistake to refer to "divine indeed he our description of the creative activity of God? creation" as an alternative scientific mechanism to evolution.
Evolution: What Does It Mean?
The necessity to discriminate between different rises of the term evolution has been repeated so often that
another repetition may seem totally unnecessary. Still our discussion would not he complete if we did not pause at least briefly to indicate at least four principal ways in which the tern) evolution' is used, all with quite different emphases and implications for the Christian.
1. The Special Theory of Evolution-Microevolution.
This is a biological theory that relates changes in the physical and biological structures of living populations with the passage of time, particularly in response to changes in environmental conditions. Such changes can readily be observed in the laboratory, and no one questions either the fact or the interpretation of such changes. A simple example is the way in which insects become immune to pesticides with the passage of time, as a strain survives and multiplies with immunity at the expense of those without it.
2. The General Theory of Evolution-Macroevolution.
This is a biological theory that attempts to describe the development of all living creatures from a common origin (or possibly origins) resulting from the transformation of non-living to living matter, through the types of changes observed in microevolution acting over the long stretches of time since the beginning of the earth. Sometimes the biological theory dealing with living creatures is preceded by what is called chemical evolution, and that by what is called cosmological evolution. Clearly in these cases the word evolution is used to signify change with the passage of time, but quite different mechanisms are involved than in biological evolution.
All of these theories are outgrowths of a scientific framework in which the accepted guidelines specify that only those mechanisms can be admitted that can he described in natural categories. Supernatural categories are ruled out of scientific descriptions by definition. If there are phenomena that cannot be described scientifically, then this will he evidenced by a constant failure to arrive at a scientific description, although in the nature of the ease no certain proof can he obtained.
It is a mistake to refer to "divine creation" as an alternative scientific' mechanism to evolution, To the scientifically oriented observer, a bona fide ease of fiat creation can he described only as a spontaneous event, defying scientific description in natural categories. To speak of "divine creation" is to supply a theological interpretation of "spontaneous event" It may he decided that it is unprofitable to look for a scientific description of origins, but it cannot he argued that there are two equally viable scientific mechanisms: creation and evolution.
As a scientific description, evolutionary theory as we know it today may well prove inadequate to describe the development of life forms on earth, although so much circumstantial evidence exists in its favor that no simple and abrupt refutations of the theory are expected. Evolutionists, themselves, hew ever, do not hesitate to indicate the limits of their knowledge-at least when writing as scientists and not as public relations promoters. They acknowledge the improbability of what seems to have happened in the evolutionary picture. And they are frank about their ignorance of such topics as:4 the genetic component of non-physical traits, any direct evidence on the first billion years of earth history, the chemistry by which monomers of life could have been synthesized on the primitive earth, the evolution of the genetic' machinery, the development of innate behavior by evolution, the absence of fossil clues to the neurological advance accompanying increase in brain size, clearly defined rules that state how fossils should be compared or how anatomy should be understood, and the origins of human speech, to give a partial list from the open literature. Considering the magnitude of the problems involved in this undertaking, however, such shortcomings should not occasion surprise or drive us prematurely into thinking that increased understanding will not come with time and effort.
We may summarize these comments about the General Theory, therefore, by stating that the General Theory of biological evolution is very much alive and quite far from complete success. Scientists will, by the nature of science, continue to see how far descriptions in natural categories may be pushed to describe earth and human history. Certainly the past is replete with the skeletons of previous attempts to declare that scientific description could never pass the next frontier of human knowledge.
3. Cultural Evolution, This very term itself warns us that we have stepped out of the bounds of biological theory into social theory, just as before biological theory we considered cosmological and chemical evolution. Cultural evolution simply describes the changes in mankind and the environment with time because of the effects of human culture and civilization. This is a fascinating and relevant topic, for certainly the changes in human life due to cultural evolution are currently far more rapid than those due to biological evolution. Biological evolution, for example, dues not pass on acquired characteristics from one generation to the next, but cultural evolution does.
4. Evolutionism. Finally we come to the term with an on the end, indicating an extreme position. It is a philosophical and religious (in a general sense) position that elevates evolution to an ultimate significance and reinterprets everything else in terms of such an elevation.
Common forms of evolutionism have received a wide press, and it is not surprising that the popular mind tends to equate any mention of "evolution" with this philosophico-religious, nonscientific extrapolation of evolution into realms far beyond its proper area.
Traditional evolutionism tends to emphasize the following anti-Christian perspectives; (a) denies the importance or reality of divine Creation in any form; (b) substitutes metaphysical for moral evil, and regards evil as incompleteness of the evolutionary process; (c) defines the nature of humanity in terms of a highly evolved animal only; (d) considers it possible for humanity to save itself by taking charge of evolution: (e) confines reality to the natural; and (f) believes that evolution will ultimately deliver all mankind to some kind of earthly or supraearthly Utopia.
It is therefore critically important that discussions of creation and evolution should be based oil a careful concern for which meaning of these two terms is really involved.
Are Creation and Evolution Mutually Exclusive?
The debate about creation and evolution has unfortunately involved itself in two main types of category confusion. One form of such confusion occurs in discussions of creation and evolution per se, and the other form in discussions of the related topics of design and chance. That the terms as commonly intended in such discussions really deal with two quite different levels can he seen by examining the situations illustrated in the following Table.
Scientific description spontaneous event evolutionary process
Scientific description determinism chance
With these terms defined as we have developed in these installments, it is evident that Creation (with a capital C) and Evolutionism (with a capital E) are mutually exclusive worldviews. The former is based on the foundational activity of God, the latter on a godless presupposition. In any given phenomenon, such as the origin of life or the origin of humanity, a spontaneous instantaneous beginning and a gradual continuous evolutionary process are also mutually exclusive mechanisms. The worldview of Creation, however, is able to encompass either instantaneous fiat or evolutionary process depending only on which indeed did occur. The acceptance of a worldview of Creation assures that the scientific mechanism can be nothing else than a particular manifestation of the activity of God.
The General Theory of biological evolution is very much alive and quite far from complete success.
Similarly one may compare the other pair of concepts: Design and Chance. Design
refers to a worldview in which the character of the universe has been formed in
accordance with divine intelligence and concern. Chance (with a
capital C) refers
to a worldview in which the universe is the product of blind,
statistical processes. Clearly Design and Chance are mutually
The choices in a scientific description, however, are of only two types: either
a process is described in terms of exact mathematical relations (a
description), or it is describable in terms of a probabilistic approach (often
called "chance" in science). To say that a scientific description is
a chance description implies only that our present knowledge leads us
it in a statistical rather than a deterministic manner. As descriptions of the
same phenomenon, determinism and chance are mutually exclusive
although they are often closely related: in the case of an atomic
particle a description
of its motion in terms of its "position" and "velocity" can
he given only in terms of probabilities, but a description of its
motion in terms
of its corresponding "wavefunction" can he given deterministically.
To argue that a scientific chance description rules out Design, is as unfounded
as the argument that a detersninistic scientific description rules
out human responsibility.
The Christian discounts the worldview of Chance. But the worldview of Design is able to encompass phenomena described scientifically as either "determined" or "chance."
Are Evolution and the Bible Mutually Exclusive?
We are now in a position to ask an additional question. Granted that our present knowledge is incomplete and that we cannot make a final judgment on the validity of the present theory of biological evolution-is there something about this theory, which if assumed, would be in necessary contradiction with biblical teaching?
It seems to me that at the present time the answer to this question is no. An evolutionary framework is as suitable as an instantaneous creation framework for expressing the basic truths of the Bible. Note what I am not arguing: (a) I am not arguing that instantaneous fiat creation is impossible (thereby limiting the omnipotence of God), and (h) I am not arguing that evolutionary process is an ultimately faithful description of God's creative
activity (for there are still too many unanswered ques-tion.-Ii). What I am arguing is that an evolutionary-type description need not be ruled out a priori by biblical considerations, and that therefore the Christian has the freedom to pursue wherever biblical and scientific integrity lead in the future. I present this argument by giving a description in evolutionary form that is consistent with the biblical teaching about Creation.
It is God's purpose to call forth a people for Himself.
To achieve this purpose God called into being from nothing this universe in embryonic form and sent its various parts hurtling through space, establishing the immense universe in which we live. Often men have felt fragile and incredibly inconsequential in the presence of the universe with its billions of billions of stars stretching out to distances that must he measured in terms of billions of light years. It has been increasingly realized, however, that the vastness of the universe is the necessary incubator for the fulfilment of God's pus-pose to call forth a people for Himself.
The worldview of Creation is able to encompass either instantaneous fiat or evolutionary process-depending only on which indeed did occur.
If the energy of the initial "big bang" (if that is indeed the proper
model) had been less, the universe would long ago have collapsed,
its period of expansion into self destructive contraction.
But if the energy of the "big hang" had been much more, the expansion would have been so rapid that the density of the universe would have been too rapidly decreasing for stars and galaxies to form.
All of the elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are believed to have been synthesized in cataclysmic supernovae explosions much earlier in the history of the universe. We are mode of the ashes of the supernovae.
The synthesis of carbon-the essential element of living matter-depends upon the critical nature of the energy states that exist; a little bit more one way, and we would have had beryllium and very little carbon; a little hit more the other way, and we would have oxygen and essentially no carbon. How big is "a little bit"? Only 0.5%!
It has been suggested that the meaning of the universe is to bring forth life. Without 100 billion galaxies, life would sieves- appear!
To achieve His purpose in calling forth a people to Himself, God brought into being the solar system in our galaxy that we call the Milky Way. In that solar system lie brought forth the earth as the environment suitable for a people that He would call.
As He worked through what we might call "cosmogenesis" (the birth of the universe and our earth) ,5 so He continued to work in what we might call "biogenesis," bringing forth on this earth living creatures in the seas, on the land and in the air.
When the time was ripe, when the cosmic "temperature" of creation was at white heat, a new reality burst forth that we might call "noogenesis," the birth of selfconscious human life. But this new, self-conscious ho-Inanity is self-centered and unwilling with its newly given consciousness to recognize the lordship of its Creator, Made in many ways like the animals, but called to transcend the other animals as that unique creature enabled to have personal fellowship with God himself, this human being chooses to forsake his humanity for his lower nature. Sin enters the world through the disobedience of the first man. The living, sinful human creature needs one more transformation to complete the purpose of God.
Before the origin of life, God's evolutionary change functioned in the physical stuff of the universe, When living creatures emerged, the focus of evolutionary change shifted from the physical stuff to the living creatures, from the physical realm to the biological realm, as cosmological evolution-having completed its task of bringing forth life-gave way to biological evolution. In its torn biological evolution also fulfilled the task set for it and gave rise to self-conscious human beings made for fellowship with God. But this self-centered sinful creature needs a final transformation-needs another shift in evolutionary development-a transformation now adequate for the thinking, self-conscious world brought into being with noogenesis.
What transformation is there known to us that creates new spiritual life in a human being without it?
What transformation do we know that takes what is provided by cosmological evolution from the ashes of
What transformation do we know that takes what is provided by cosmological evolution from the ashes of the supernovae, what is provided by biological evolution from the primeval sources of the first living creatures, and completes the calling and purpose of God by providing a new creation in the realm of the spiritual?
the supernovae, what is provided by biological evolution from the primeval sources
of the first living creatures, and completes the calling and purpose of God by
providing a new creation in the reality of the spiritual?
To ask the question of Christians is to answer it. The new birth in Christ, the regeneration of the Holy Spirit --- this is what is needed to complete God's call and purpose; this is the final earthly stage ill the great drama that Cod has been working out over the life of the universe-to he followed only by the end and consumation of that drama at the end of this age.
And so-one might argue as I have done here-an evolutionary scheme of description is not only consistent with the essential themes of the biblical teaching, but leads in a natural and continuous way into the essence of the Christian Gospel, without making sin any less real (I less serious than it is, without invoking self-salvation or cosmic salvation, without reducing moral man to metaphysical animal, and without being universalistic.
In closing I remind the reader once again that I am not claiming that this is indeed the pattern of what happened, but only that if something like this happened, I see no necessity to regard it as in unresolvable conflict with biblical teaching.
Attention to the text of Genesis 1-3 reveals the set of ultimate truths revealed by these accounts. None of these truths depend in any critical way on the specific mechanisms involved in the event of creation. To equate the revelational content of Genesis with a specific mechanism of creation is both textually and conceptually unjustifiable.
Confusion about evolution often stems from the failure to understand at least four quite different ways in
which this term is used: microevolution, microevolution, cultural evolution, and evolutionism. The first is scientifically established and the fourth is openly anti-Christian, but a clear understanding of the relation between the four is essential for an evaluation of an evolutionary hypothesis vis-a-vis the biblical revelation.
To confuse a worldview based on Creation with a specific mechanism that might have been involved in the creation events, consists of the same type of category confusion as the confusion of a worldview based on Design with a specific type of scientific description.
A synthesis of evolutionary process with biblical revelation can he made without doing violence to the integritv of either. Although it can certainly not be claimed that such a synthesis is a reliable description of earth and life history, the possibility of such a synthesis shows that it is not necessary to reject evolutionary hypotheses a priori because of the biblical revelation.
1See, for example, A Van der Ziel, Genesis and Scientific Inquiry, Denison, Minneapolis, (1965)
2See, for example, R. H. Bube, "The Significance of Being Human," Journal of the ASA 31,37 (19791
3See, for example, R. H. Bube, The Human Quest, Word, Waco (1971)
4See, for example, a series of articles in a special issue of Scientific American on "Evolution" September (1978).
5 The terms, "cosmogenesis," "biogenesis," and "noogenesis," are borrowed from the writings of Teilhard de Chardis, e.g., The Phenomenon of Man, Harper, N.Y. (1959), but without Teilhard's total interpretation that follows these with the universalistic stage of "Christogenesis."
*This continuing series of articles is based on courses given at
Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and
Foothill Covenant Church. Precious articles were published as follows. 1, 'Science
Isn't Everything," March (1976), pp. 33-47. 2. "Science
June (1976), pp. 82-87. 3 . . . . .The Philosophy and Practice of
September (1976), pp. 127-132. 4. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-
Cult and Occult.'' March (1977), pp.22-28.5. "Pseudo-Science and
(13) Scientific Theology," September (1977). pp. 124-129. 6.
and Pseudo- Theology. (C) Cosmic' Consciousness,'' December (1977),
7. "Man Come of Age?" June (1978), pp. 81-57. 8.
September (1978), pp. 134-141.9. "The Significance of Being Human,"
March (1979), pp. 37-43. 10. "Human Sexuality. (A) Are Times A'Changing'?"
June (1979), pp. 106-112. 11. "Human Sexuality. (B) Love and Late,"
September (1979), pp. 153-157. 12. "Creation (A) How Should
Genesis Be Interpreted'?"
March (1980), pp. 34-39
The specific format of this paper follows lectures at an interterm on Creation given at George Fox College, Newberg, Oregon, in September 1978.