Science in Christian Perspective
Creation vs. Evolution: The Ultimate Issue
T. M. Moore
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
From: JASA 34 (September 1982): 175-178.
The argument of this Communication is that the ultimate issue in the debate between scientific creationism and evolutionism is neither scientific nor practical in nature. Rather, it is epistemological and, in the nature of the case, theological. As such, the debate can be effectively carried on only within a philosophical context that considers the entire matter with respect to its overall presuppositions, implications, and applications, both to the field of science and education. After some brief remarks concerning the more obvious issues in this debate: the scientific integrity of creationism and the movement to establish it in public schools, we address ourselves more specifically to the theological veracity of creationism and the epistemological necessities that derive from it.Scientific Integrity of Creationism
Evolutionists, arguing from an entrenched position of strength, maintain that the "facts" presented by creationists require a theistic commitment for their interpretation, since just as many, if not more "facts" may be presented in support of their own perspective. Creationism is a religious conviction, and to implement such a perspective in public schools would be a violation of the tradition of church/state separation.
This line of argument forces creationists to deny the religious nature of their convictions and to insist all the more fervently on the purely scientific strength of their case. This usually involves the sponsoring of debates featuring noted scientists from both sides, and the marshalling of creationist scientists as witnesses at hearings and trials on the constitutionality of introducing scientific creationism into public schools. The debate then atrophies into a contest of experts, with the courts and the public left to judge the merits of the case of either side, based on the credentials of the participants and the strength of their arguments.
To argue from this "purely scientific" approach represents a serious contradiction of the creationist cause. Any scientific system claiming a creationist cosmology as foundational necessarily involves the idea of a Creator who stands behind and over the universe as we encounter it. This assumption is not tangential to the creationist cause, despite disclaimers to the contrary. Rather, as evolutionists are quick to point out, the matter of a God and, therefore, of religious convictions of some sort, is very much a part of the warp and woof of creationism. To insist otherwise is to carry the debate into the evolutionist court, where the strength of history and scientific opinion is virtually certain to carry the day for evolution, backed by the church/state argument, regardless of how tenuous that theory may appear to creationists.
On the practical side, to augur for the introduction of scientific creationism into public schools by means of legislative or judicial decree involves another contradiction of creationist convictions. Such an approach tacitly grants the right of the state to determine the parameters of education for all the children of the land. It recognizes the state's claim to be the pedagogical authority and makes all the children its wards, at least in this foundational area of orientation and preparation for life. Students of Scripture, the final authority for evangelicals in all matters of faith and life, will search in vain to find such a commission given to governments, as many Christian educators have consistently argued.1t is rather the church and the home-and schools deriving from them, as indeed American public schools were in the beginning-that have been given this responsibility, As a strictly practical consideration, therefore, it would seem that creationists would be better-advised to focus their efforts on equipping these biblically-recognized agents of educational responsibility to instruct the children of believers in the creationist perspective to the maximum possible degree.
Thus, the most intense activity on the part of creationists to create an audience for their views has been in arenas in which they not only compromise their basic convictions but virtually guarantee the futility of their efforts in courts and legislatures whose rational abilities are governed by their own evolutionary and church/state convictions. But, in a more fundamental sense, such an approach avoids confronting the ultimate epistemological and theological matters that are, finally, the real issue in this debate.Veracity of Special Creation
For creationists, therefore, the first question to be addressed concerns the biblical and theological veracity of special creation, the first principle of scientific creationism. If this is indeed the teaching of Scripture-and we shall, for the sake of argument, express the belief that it is-then this conviction must be allowed to guide all our scientific activity and educational concerns. If we are willing to compromise on the necessity of divine creation as that is explicitly spelled out in the Bible, then we will finally have no leg to stand on when it comes to arguing the rest of our case. If, on the other hand, we are willing boldly to assert this conviction as critical to our creationist cosmology, and on the basis of Scripture alone apart from scientific evidence, then we will have charted a course for consistency and truth in our every endeavor. We dare not detach ourselves from the biblical statements on cosmic origins merely for the sake of preserving the "scientific integrity" of our cosmology. We must assert that special creation is so not because the evidence demands that verdict but because the Bible clearly teaches it. On such a basis we will be able to marshall the effective epistemological weaponry with which to enter the debate against evolutionists.
Consistent exegesis of the pertinent texts reveals that the Scriptures set forth special creation as that cosmogony which best describes the origins of our universe. No exhaustive exposition can be offered here. Instead we mention here only two exegetical indicators that seem to point in the direction of special creation. These are the use of the Hebrew word bara throughout Genesis I and 2 and in other passages related to cosmic origins, and the necessity of thinking in terms of the creative periods, "days", as being very close in resemblance, if not identical, to the twenty-four hour periods with which we are familiar.
In the Hebrew Old Testament no less than eighteen different verb forms are employed to convey the idea of "making" or "creating." Each of these has subtle shades of usage which make it particularly apt for each context in which one or another of these verbs appears. Thus, to make a house is banah, to build, while to make a clay vessel is yatsar. Each of these, along with all the other verbs and their various forms, while suggesting a basic idea of making one substance out of others, carries peculiar nuances of suggestion relative to the maker, the materials involved, the product which results, and so forth.
When we come to bara, we expect that the same principles of peculiarity will obtain. This verb appears in various forms 54 times in the Old Testament. A careful study of each context reveals some interesting generalities which, in turn, shed light on the particular usage of this verb throughout Genesis I and 2.
In the first place, almost half (26) of the times bara appears it is used in reference to the events of the creation period. This is by far and away a greater usage to describe the origins of the cosmos than the next closest verb form, ahsah. and, while ahsah is a more common form and can be used to mean "to create," the writers of the Old Testament seem more concerned to limit its usage to the description of the products of bara activity and to the making of articles out of existing substances through a process of work and refinement. The suggestion is, therefore, that the use of bara to describe creative activity had a special connotation of situation and events in the minds of the writers of the Old Testament.
This suggestion of a special connotation-a special creation, if you will-involving the use of bara is strengthened by the fact that of the 54 appearances of bara in the Old Testament 48 of them have God as the subject (the six not involving God as subject are not translatable by English equivalents of "to create" or "to make" but seem rather to suggest the idea of marking something off for a special purpose). Thus, it is suggested that bara, a word used primarily to describe the events of the creation period, is meant to imply an activity of bringing something into being that is strictly a divine prerogative. Only God can create in the special sense of bara.
In considering the creation events that this word is used to describe, therefore, there is very good reason for thinking in terms of a special situation, a unique creative period that required a uniquely divine work. Thus, when we talk of "special creation", we need not limit ourselves to a process involving the normally observable laws of science, as a theistic evolutionist might wish to hold. Indeed, the evidence seems strongly to recommend an "unnatural" series of events, a special creation.
When we come to the word for "day" (Hebrew, yom), a similar scrutiny is required. The word yom has a variety of meanings suggesting duration of time. Among these are the normal 24-hour period, the life of an individual, or a generation or more. How can we know what Moses meant to suggest in Genesis I? The attempt to arrive at a conclusion favoring a 24-hour day is exacerbated by the appearance of the sun and moon as measures thereof only later in the creation week. Yet, since we are dealing with a special, divine creative effort, we need not rule out the 24 hour period. What is impossible with men is not so with God.
If Moses had meant to imply a long period of time, and if he had meant to leave that clearly ascertainable for subsequent generations, would he have chosen the word yom? Were there other words at his disposal which would have been more effective at leading us to think in terms of epochs or ages instead of days when it comes to the creation events?
The answer is yes. Had Moses wished us to think in terms of long periods of years involved in the creation week he could have used the word cheled. The word is old enough for Moses (it appears in Job 17:14) and clear enough to convey a long duration of time (cf. Psalm 39:5 where the NIV translates it "span of years"). Yet Moses chose to bypass this term in favor of yom. What did he mean to convey?
By using the analogy of Scripture, whereby we allow the Bible itself to be its own best commentator, we can arrive at a conclusion to this matter. In Exodus 20:8-11 God Himself is speaking to Moses concerning the law of the Sabbath. He says men are to work six days (yomim) and rest on the seventh day (yom). The reason He gives for this commandment is because such an arrangement will recall to the minds of God's people His special creation and, hence, who is their Creator, the Provider of their work and thL 0'-ject of their rest. God says, "For in six days (yomin) the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day (Yom). This is God's reasoning for blessing the seventh day (yom) as one of rest. Either God was deliberately confusing the whole matter or He was very clear in what He meant to convey. In the light of God's illimitable power to do all things-even those that are greater than we could ask or think-it seems more consistent to accept the evidence for a special creation encompassing a six-day period than to expect that God, if He did create at all, could only have done so through natural processes over great periods of time. Such a conviction requires eyes of faith, without which it is impossible to please God. To compromise on this point is to open ourselves up to a charge of inconsistency in our basic organizing principles and to the ultimate destruction of our biblical approach through some vain longing for "scientific respectability".The Ultimate Issue
Taking the evidence for special creation at face value, based on a commitment to the reliability of Scripture, we are now prepared to address the ultimate issue in the debate between creationism and evolution.
Accepting an unclouded biblical basis for scientific activity, a basis that includes a special creation as we have argued, we are prepared to approach the evolutionist in a manner sufficiently perspicuous and consistent to provide a cogent defense for our scientific thinking. With the matter of cosmogony resolved, and with a commitment to cosmic origins that is derived by faith in the Word of God, we present ourselves as unasharnedly standing on a purely revelational foundation for our position. We are saying, in effect, that God has spoken and has revealed His truth to us in a propositional manner that allows us to have absolute, if incomplete, insight into the composition and purpose of the universe of which we are a part. We are saying that we can know truth and, knowing we can perform operations on and in the universe that will yield predictable results. The point is that, within a biblical worldview, -we can have certainty of knowledge in scientific activity and logical thought. Since we resist the temptation to "naturalize" even the most fundamental truths about the cosmos, we are prepared to be guided by God's statements about the purpose of that cosmos and its proper use regardless of what it is discussing and without the need of adapting these things to make them palatable to finite human understandings. Our absolute confidence in God's absolute revelation allows us a large measure of consistency in the whole realm of scientific knowledge.
The precise point to make here is that this is a claim which the evolutionist simply cannot make. His basic presuppositions not only are inconsistent, but many of them are, in fact, "borrowed" from the Christian worldview. And when he is exposed as standing on such an unstable foundation, the evolutionist is vulnerable to embarrassment in the critical area of epistemology and all the implications deriving from it.
The evolutionist maintains, purely on the basis of faith-as evolutionists Robert Jastrow, B. F. Skinner, and others have pointed out2that the universe as we find it evolved out of a condition of chaos through an orderly process of orderly development characterized by change in the direction of progress. The governing principle for this evolutionary process has been and is chance, a sort of cosmic whim that intervenes into history effecting unique circumstances and/or events that advance the orderly progress of the cosmos. Chance is both unknowable and unpredictable; yet it is the best explanation the evolutionist can offer for cosmic development.
Chance, however, being what it is, cannot be relied upon and, indeed, should be viewed as the enemy, not ac building block, of science. For if chance, pure chance, reigns supreme in the universe, hovering over the evolutionary process, poised to strike at a time and in a manner that cannot be predicted in advance, then we cannot be absolutely certain about any of the results of our scientific activity. We cannot know with certainty what the product of any chance intervention might be. What might have been yesterday need not be so tomorrow in the kingdom of chance.
Thus, in an evolutionary framework, we can speak only of truth for the moment, of a universe of ultimate uncertainty and constant change in which, on the basis of our presuppositions, scientific activity would be scarcely conceivable and all existence would be reduced to one of fear and survival.
Yet the evolutionist acts as though he does, in fact, know with certainty. He speaks of "laws" of science, of the predictability of experimentation, of progress and the like. In so doing he actually denies that he believes in the ultimacy of chance. Yet he holds on to chance as a basic assumption of cosmic evolution, at least at the philosophical level.
In short, if he is perfectly consistent in following all his presuppositions, the evolutionist has nothing to say and nothing to offer science or human betterment.3 And if he does purport to speak with certainty and to work for the betterment of mankind through science, he denies his own basic assumptions and borrows truth from the Christian, who is perfectly at home in an orderly, predictable universe where knowledge in some absolute form can be discovered. The evolutionist shows the fundamental instability of his own cosmology and asserts fundamental reliability of the biblical cosmology in every aspect of his scientific activity . He will never admit this, however, and may seek to avoid the conclusion by qualifying such terms as "chance ... .. absolute," and so forth; but he cannot avoid the radical inconsistency between his views and his labors except by final reference to his own personal authority.
It is here that the Christian must "go for the throat." By seeking to obviate the practical difficulties of creationism in an insistence upon its scientific integrity apart from faith and the Scriptures, as some creationists have done, the Christian cuts himself off from the only rock of certainty that can give authority, consistency and veracity to his work in any area of life. When, on the other hand, he stands squarely on that truth and challenges the evolutionist to explain why, on the one hand, he denies it (at the level of philosophy of science) and, on the other, depends upon it (in the practical search for order and meaning in the universe), the Christian succeeds in leaving the evolutionist without an excuse and with an unpaid balance due of indebtedness to the bank of Christian truth. It is only such epistemological toughmindedness that can ultimately serve to dismantle the evolutionary monolith and reassert the necessary biblical foundations for knowledge and science in any area.
The scientific creationist is to be commended for his bold assertion of the biblical cosmology vis a vis the dominant evolutionary paradigm. Yet he must remain consistent in his every effort to establish creationism as a revolutionary explanation of the origin and nature of the cosmos. The Christian community, which seeks a biblical foundation for every other aspect of its life, will be satisfied with nothing less than a biblical basis for this endeavor as well. The evolutionary camp, on the other hand, which has succeeded so marvelously through reason and science alone to further its worldview, will only be deterred and finally interrupted when that same weight of Scripture is brought to bear against it in the realms of epistemology and consistent procedure.References
1Cf. DeJong, Norman, Education in the Truth (Nutley, JF: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969); Rushdoony, R. J., Intellectual Schizophrenia (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973); Moore, T. M., The Education ofOur Children: Whose Task? (Memphis: Christian Studies Center, 1979).
2Jastrow, Robert, Until the Sun Dies (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1977), pp. 62, 63; Skinner, B. F., About Behaviorism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), p. 232.
3No one has argued this point more effectively than Cornelius Van Til. Cf. Apologetics (class syllabus), pp. 63, 64 and the following remarks:
On the assumptions of the natural man logic is a timeless impersonal principle, as factuality is controlled by chance. It is by means of universal timeless principles of logic that the natural man must, on his assumptions, seek to make intelligible assertions about the world of reality or chance. But -this cannot be done without failing into self-contradiction. About -chance no manner of assertion can be made. In its very idea it is the irrational. And how are rational assertions to be made about the irrational? If they are to be made then it must be because the irrational is itself wholly reduced to the rational. (Ibid., pp. 81, 82)