Penetrating the Word Maze

Richard H. Bube 
Dept. of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering
Stanford University Stanford, California 94305

From: PSCF 42 (November 1990): 185-186.

Taking a look at words we often use-and misuse. Please let us know whether these attempts at clarification are helpful to you. 

Today's words are: "creation/evolution." 

The dictionary definitions: creation: "the act of bringing the world into ordered existence"; 
evolution: "a process of continuous change in a certain direction." [Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Springfield, MA (1987).]

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Surely it must be superfluous today to talk about the definition of "creation" or "evolution." Haven't these terms been beaten to death in recent years with all the public debate?

Apparently the answer is no. These terms are consistently misused to advance certain theological or philosophical positions. It would seem somehow incomplete to have a series on the use and misuse of words important to the interaction between science and Christian theology without including them.

The prevalent source of confusion in the use of these two terms involved two failures: (1) the failure to discriminate between the fundamental meaning of Creation as biblically revealed, and one or more particular mechanisms used to describe the activity of creation; and (2) the failure to discriminate between the scientific description of God's probable activity in earth history, and the quasi-religious commitments of Evolutionism. The importance of Creation as a biblical doctrine cannot be over-emphasized. It drives a sharp wedge between competing world views on God and human beings. It rules out naturalism, dualism, and pantheism. It shows us that we depend moment-by-moment for our very existence upon the continuing free activity of God. It sets forth both the transcendence and immanence of God. While not solving the implacable riddle of evil, it reveals that evil is not intrinsic to the created universe, but that evil and sin are aberrations on that good creation.

But the significance of the biblical doctrine of Creation does not depend on the method or mechanistic details of God's actual creative activity. The Bible tells us that God created; the answer to questions as to how God created must be sought also in the revelation God has given in the universe He has made.

There is ample evidence that living creatures undergo changes in biological structures in response to environmental changes, and it is this fundamental observation that forms the foundation for the description of life origins and changes known as evolution. It is supported by a growing body of understanding at the biochemical level. As with every major scientific theory, many unanswered questions still exist.

But one question can be readily answered: "If the biological theory of evolution were indeed a relatively accurate description of what happened historically, what would be its implication for the Christian?" The answer is simply this: "Then this would provide us with information about the way to describe God's actual mechanisms and modes of creation." There is, therefore, nothing necessarily threatening to the Christian position arising from the biological theory of evolution.

At the same time, however, there has arisen a complex quasi-religious world view that we may call Evolutionism, which claims to deduce the answers to questions about meaning and purpose from the biological theory of evolution. Advocates of such a quasi-religious perspective often replace the concept of God with Nature, or in more extreme cases claim that one must conclude that pure Chance rules the universe. Although a Christian could accept the biblical doctrine of God's creating activity, a Christian can respond to Evolutionism only with rejection.

Unfortunately well-meaning Christians without a clear perspective on these issues have chosen to attempt their defense of the integrity of the biblical revelation by attacking in the wrong place. They have made three fundamental errors, each related to not penetrating the word maze.

First, they have confused the fact and meaning of Creation with the mechanisms of creation. Their insistence that we must choose between creation and evolution misses the crucial distinction between these words as descriptions of meaning and descriptions of mechanism.

Second, they have confused the philosophical errors of the world view of Evolutionism with the scientific questions of the biological theory of evolution. This has driven them often to a curious paradox: the attempt to use science to demonstrate that science is incorrect.

And third, they have confused a traditional interpretation of the Bible with the authentic requirements of biblical integrity itself. They believe that the integrity of the biblical revelation requires that the account of Genesis be interpreted as a literal, historical, scientifically accurate description of what actually happened on certain days in the past. Being children of their times, they almost automatically regard a scientific defense as the best possible defense, and therefore find themselves in the situation of trying to uphold the integrity of the Bible by demonstrating that it is scientifically accurate.

The Christian concerned with the errors of Evolutionism needs to attack at that point: to challenge the assumption that Evolutionism itself has a scientific basis, and that acceptance of the biological theory of evolution leads inevitably to the world view of Evolutionism. I am convinced that this battle can be won.

If we understand the meaning of these words properly, we see that evolution can be considered without rejecting Creation; Creation can be accepted in the biblical sense without rejecting evolution.

Can we hope that Christians will be more creative than to spend their energies attacking bad theology by attempting to discredit authentic science?