Science in Christian Perspective
Creation and Evolution
David F. Siemens, Jr.*
2703 E. Kenwood St.
Mesa, AZ 85213-2384
From: PSCF 52 (September 2000): 194-199.
By far the most popular view on origins now held by American evangelicals and fundamentalists is recent creationism. Indeed, in some places it is apparently the majority view, as evidenced by state legislation to mandate the teaching of creation science or to eliminate mention of evolution in the public schools. It holds that, no more than 20,000 years ago, God created everything in the universe in 144 hours. Apart from some general creedal or catechectical phrase like "Creator of heaven and earth" in the Apostles' Creed, it is the only such view I know that has been incorporated into church constitutions and bylaws.
Second in popularity, but lagging well behind, is the day-age interpretation.1 It usually holds that five of the six days of Genesis 1 are successive ages during which God produced or created the named entities: light, firmament, dry land, plant life, sea life, birds, terrestrial life, and human beings. The fourth day-age is exceptional in that previously existing celestial entities were given a specific task. It is scientifically evident that the universe was created (day 1 of Genesis 1, more than ten billion years ago) before the solar system (day 4, more than four billion years ago); and that the Earth, part of the solar system, formed long before the earliest living things came to be (day 3, necessarily less than four billion years ago, though apparently very ancient). So sun, moon, and stars have somehow to be moved from well before the azoic to at least the Proterozoic to fit this view.
No longer popular is the gap theory, promoted by the Scofield Bible, which holds that an ancient earth was destroyed cataclysmically only to be restored in the six days described in Genesis 1. Since it was formulated in the nineteenth century, its standard version does not take note of the Big Bang. It requires that Gen. 1:2 be read as "And the earth became ..."2 Never popular were such theories as held that the days of Genesis 1 were literal days of either initiation or completion of developmental ages, which may have overlapped. In what follows, they may be considered versions of day-age theories.
Gordon C. Mills presents a different version of sequential creation, positing the divine introduction of new genetic material from time to time, whereas the usual day-age old earth creationists teach the total miraculous production of new creatures.3 Mills' view better fits the observed genetic continuity across orders, classes, and even phyla than the commoner sequential creation views.4
All these views hold to some form of sequential creation, that is, that God miraculously produced each type of creature, either wholly or partially, at the appropriate time. While day-age theories bypass the pre-biotic physical transformations in these divine interventions, except for the Big Bang, young-earth creationists include the entire universe. Among the described views and their variants, different numbers of creative acts are required: few, if only the progenitors of phyla were thus created; more, if the founders of classes or orders; the greatest number, if species came immediately from God's hand. Most adherents opt for creation at the level of families or genera. Even thoughtful proponents of creation science/flood geology no longer claim that all "true species" were directly created. Although some may hold with genera, the more sophisticated among them opt for taxonomic families in the Ark. This suggests that the same level held for the created "kinds."5 In all of these views, the gap between the created level and the final species, if any, is then bridged by evolution, with microevolution strongly preferred to macroevolution.6 Indeed, the majority of the proponents of these views hold that "atheistic evolution" is at least redundant, and may be one word, despite its standard spelling. This attitude forces a black-white distinction when there are several shades of gray.
Generally opposed to sequential-creation views is theistic evolution, which is commonly denigrated in evangelical circles. It is held by a small minority of scientifically trained evangelicals, some of whom have been asked not to speak of it in church, with others subjected to ecclesiastical interrogatory. It is, however, commonly espoused by Orthodox, Catholics, and liberal Protestants.7
"Intelligent Design" has been suggested as an alternate view which needs to be considered. However, in its most popular version, it is a form of old-earth sequential creationism. Further, the design of all creation by the Supreme Intelligence is a feature of all theistic, and even deistic, views.
It appears to me, though it can be no more than a guess, that the popularity of the sequential-creation views among contemporary Protestant conservatives led to the claim that the probability of evolution given a Creator is lower than one-half, even if the physical data are included.8 Is this a supportable claim? Various considerations bear on this matter.
Some Superficial Follies
Given the fossil evidence, this range of sequential-creation views provides some superficially possible scenarios. But a closer look at the fossil record, to note but a single sequence among many, shows that there are whales with pelvic girdles and legs, both complete and rudimentary, though these structures are absent or vestigial in the adults of all modern cetaceans. These fossils come at appropriate times to fit a developmental sequence.9 How can we interpret these and similar fossils?
One possibility is that God, for inscrutable reasons (unless we posit duplicity, a specific intent to mislead human thinkers) before creating the modern species of whales, independently created a series of proto-cetaceans, whale-like creatures which sequentially became extinct.10 A coupled claim is that descent cannot be proved from the fossils discovered, which is true, though hardly news. Science is not the realm of proof, but of plausible inference. Strict proof has to be left to the mathematicians, where it applies only within sets of axioms.11 But the basic thought underlying these claims is hardly other than commanding that we not think, unless it be to make the deity devilish.
A seemingly more plausible view on this basis is that the deity was trying various designs until it found a good one. This fits the notion of a limited deity, but with a negative twist, for a vast number of extinct creatures have no modern descendants. Even assuming that they were separately created as means toward refining their design, they represent a great deal of waste, with more fumbling than efficiency.12 In contrast, a standard traditional view holds that God does nothing in vain. Yet the vast number of throwaway creatures suggests a serious incapacity to get matters right--unless one can demonstrate a need for these "defective" creatures to support the existence of other contemporaneous organisms, already perfected, so that the latter could endure. Alternatively, one might try to show the prototypes necessary to control the number or to promote the development, however limited, of other creatures. Defending such claims appears at least highly problematic. I know of no one who has attempted it.
A related line of evidence makes the situation even worse. Several species of ichthyosaur, efficient air-breathing aquatic creatures with lobed tails, antedated the cetaceans.13 Although they retained a pelvic girdle and their tails had vertical fins rather than horizontal flukes, they functioned much as porpoises do. Hence, if this premised designer entity did not transfer the functional pattern quite directly, the pseudo-deity would have to have been notably stupid or forgetful--clearly not the Creator of the orthodox creeds. Would any proponent of even the most limited deity be comfortable with so pathetic a performance?
If these matters are considered carefully, the traditional view of the deity runs counter to most sequential creation views, but is neutral relative to Mills' view. With the gap theory, it is improbable relative to the recreation, which is similar to recent creationism, but somewhat probable relative to original development. Theistic evolution is also somewhat probable.
Another line of empirical evidence, vestigial organs, has fallen on hard times. It is claimed that about 180 were once listed,14 including all the endocrine glands, whose function was then unknown. Since much of the century-old list was a demonstration of ignorance, most evangelicals dismiss all references to vestigial organs out of hand. However, whales give evidence very difficult to discount. For example, 20-mm embryos still have external hind limb buds similar to those of embryos of other mammals at corresponding levels of development. Any external indication of hind limbs has disappeared by the time the embryo is about 30 mm long. Adult baleen whales (suborder Mystacoceti15) have no teeth. But fetuses have tooth buds in both jaws, just as the toothed whales (Odontoceti) do. Buds continue to develop in the latter, but are resorbed in the former about the time baleen plates begin to form.16 While other claims of vestigial organs have been dismissed on grounds either that they are precursors to later organs, are essential to embryonic nutrition or have other purposes, it seems impossible to imagine a use for undeveloped teeth, or for resorbed pelvic girdles and hind limbs. One might account for the teeth by the creation of one ancestral cetacean from which both suborders descended. This requires evolution of everything within the order, a higher category than most day-age proponents and all recent creationists will allow. But the limb buds push evolution back to the superorder or subclass level, presenting a graver problem.
With few discovered exceptions, the "three-letter" genetic codes of DNA and RNA are the same for all creatures, from bacteria to monocots and mammals. Additionally, many developmental controls appear identical across phyla. It has been objected that some similar genes control different functions in different creatures. While true, this may not be germane, for research keeps discovering more genes that exist as families: that is, similar genes in a single species control different processes or produce dissimilar effects. With the expansion of genetic sequencing, more and more gene families are being discovered. So it is probable that the objection is based on the discovery of one member of the gene family in one species and another member of the family in the other species.17 Consequently it seems probable that more comprehensive knowledge of entire genomes will fully demonstrate the parallels. At least, this appears to me the direction indicated by current discoveries.18
This extrapolation is supported by the basic identity of genes across wide taxonomic categories. For example, a gene called eyeless in Drosophila controls the development of the compound eye. Essentially the same gene is required for the development of eyes in squid and mouse, despite the great differences in their structures. Indeed, the corresponding mammalian gene can replace eyeless without changing the dipteran structure.19 The spread across taxonomic categories is apparently even greater.20 In addition, a gene product may develop a different function in a more complex chain.21
What bearing does this have on the independent creation of many creatures? It suggests that the deity utilizing such restricted means is without imagination and ingenuity, a severely limited entity, not the omniscient and omnipotent Creator of orthodoxy.
Comparing Causes and Effects
A principle which has been widely accepted is the commensurability of cause and effect. Strict application would require that an infinite cause have an infinite effect. But, as commonly understood, it claims only that no effect can be greater than its cause, thereby allowing greater causes to produce lesser effects.22 Just as a painting does not, indeed, cannot, measure the whole being of a painter, so a finite creation may be produced by an infinite Creator. But the principle further implies that God's creation would most probably be produced instantaneously and totally rather than dribbled out piecemeal over eons--unless the deity is not almighty.23 One gets a hint that Augustine recognized this in suggesting that the divine act of creation was immediate and all-inclusive, with results that took time to unroll or develop.24 I find it interesting that most old-earth creationists go along with this developmental approach for the physical universe, from Big Bang to present state. Their rejection of the view applies only to living creatures. They argue that it is impossible for the Creator to have implemented a universe in which life could develop and differentiate without repeated miraculous interventions. Unfortunately, this depends on a view of nature as self-contained, operating on its own internal principles, which is more deistic than theistic.25 Luther, in contrast, spoke of natural laws as unser herrn Gotts larven, latinized as larvae dei, the masks of God. That is, we see only the orderly processes of nature although God is the authentic Actor behind all that appears to us. In other words, there is no ultimate differentiation between God as Creator and God as Sustainer and Providence. The difference is one of human viewpoint, of our inexorably temporal outlook.26
When these various considerations are pulled together, premising only an omnipotent and omniscient deity, the highest probability applies to an instantaneous and total creation of everything in its finished state. This conflicts with the old-earth creationists' view that, most probably, many miracles of creation were necessary to produce the universe and its inhabitants. It conflicts equally with the views of recent creationists, who also posit a series of creative acts. Though adherents to creation science will object strenuously to this point, once numbers of creative miracles are required, it makes little rational difference whether they occur within 144 hours or over several billion years, or, for that matter, whether genes or whole creatures are involved.
At first glance, the view best supported by the data cited is that of a deity limited in knowledge, wisdom, and power, feeling its way in an attempt to get things right eventually. This is essentially the god of process theology, though clearly modified, for few, if any, proponents of process theology will accept a deity so restricted. Proponents of this viewpoint ascribe limited foreknowledge to the deity, not limited competence.
A similar interpretation can be applied to recent creationism, where a deity of limited intelligence but vast power might randomly assort various characteristics in order to produce, among the multitude of living things created on the several days, a few viable ones. This seems the most plausible view for them in the light of the vast number of creatures found only as fossils. There are other possibilities. We may join the popular fable about W¸rzburg professor Johann Beringer, in which they were God's preliminary models for creation.27 A second view corresponds to Swift's description of the Laputan academy,28 or furnishing monkeys with typewriters.
There is an alternative view, theistic evolution, that posits an almighty and all-knowing deity who freely chooses process over fiat, though fully capable of producing the universe instantaneously. With this view, the pieces fall together more smoothly. Proto-whales with legs, extinct creatures both with and without descendants, the broad genetic similarities across taxonomic categories--all fit plausibly if creatures are connected by descent according to the divine plan. Granted, there are gaps, both philosophical and empirical, in the scenario. But there is very strong evidence that God used a very slow developmental approach in the inorganic.29 His purpose in salvation has unrolled slowly, from the protevangelium through the history of Israel and the Church, toward a culmination still hoped for. These considerations support the claim that God acted similarly in providing inhabitants for earth. Properly understood, this view, namely that both the universe and the living things within it slowly developed under God's constant control, excludes both deistic and materialistic tendencies.30 If one is committed to strict theism, eschewing both deism and panentheism, and looks seriously at all the empirical data, this last view clearly has the highest probability.
One major objection has been raised against this view, namely that the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, and other discontinuities in the fossil record could not have been produced by divinely controlled development. However, the factors in the inorganic are incredibly improbable also, but are taken as a demonstration of divinely established natural laws.31 So this special claim about the organic is either a denial of God's competence or a dogmatic declaration that natural laws are inexorable and fully understood.32
Recently reported Pre-Cambrian fossils found in China indicate that the apparent Cambrian explosion was probably a long-term expansion. It appeared sudden because of problems in the preservation of soft-bodied creatures and the accessibility of such ancient unmetamorphosed strata.
1This view ignores the single day of Genesis 2:4ff, in which birds and quadrupeds were produced after the shaping of Adam and before the building of Eve.
2This translation is not recognized in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament I (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 213f.
3Gordon C. Mills, "A Theory of Theistic Evolution as an Alternative to Naturalistic Theory," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF) 47 (June 1995): 112-22. See also ------, "Possible Role of Protein Modules in a Theory of Theistic Evolution," PSCF 50 (June 1998): 136-39.
4Indeed, Dean DellaPenna speaks of "interkingdom orthologs" in "Nutritional Genomics: Manipulating Plant Micronutrients to Improve Human Health," Science 285 (16 July 1999): 377.
5See A. J. Jones, "How Many Animals on the Ark?" Creation Research Society Quarterly 10 (September 1973): 102-8; John Woodmorappe, Noah's Ark: A Feasibility Study (Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1996), 5-8.
6The development of all historic equids, as specified by flood geology, from a single ancestral pair within the few thousand years since the flood is arguably macroevolution.
7This view is not monolithic. While some may argue for a wholly "natural" development, others, like John Paul II, "Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution" (1996), insist that the human soul was specially created. Others may add life. These are some of the shades of gray.
8Alvin Plantinga, "Science: Augustinian or Duhemian?" Faith and Philosophy 13 (July 1996): 368-94, esp. pp. 383-90.
9Philip D. Gingerich, B. Holly Smith, and Elwyn L. Simons, "Hind Limbs of Eocene Basilosaurus: Evidence of Feet in Whales," Science 249 (13 July 1990): 154-7; Annalisa Berta, "What Is a Whale?," Science, 263 (14 January 1994): 180f; J. G. M. Thewissen, S. T. Hussain and M. Arif, "Fossil Evidence for the Origin of Aquatic Locomotion in Archaeocete Whales," Ibid., 210-12.
This is recognized by Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 50.
10Ross, The Genesis Question, 50-2. Proponents of this and related views need to decide whether the extinctions are "accidental," that is, by natural forces or by deliberate divine action. But this complexity is not germane to the main question addressed in this paper.
11Note that it is not possible to have Euclidean geometry without the Euclidean axioms and postulates (called axioms in the modern, complete versions). But one is free to change these to give non-Euclidean geometries, of which there are many.
12That it was for the benefit of angels (see Ross, The Genesis Question, 55f) is so obviously ad hoc that it does not need rebuttal.
13PIesiosaurs, pliosaurs, and mosasaurs, also excellent swimmers, did not have a lobed tail.
14"A Medical Scientist," Evolution, 11th ed. (Toronto: International Christian Crusade, 1951), 19f. The source cited elsewhere is Robert Weiderscheim, Der Bau das Menschen, but I was unable to confirm this number in a translation, The Structure of Man (1895).
15Some taxonomists makes the suborders into orders instead of recognizing Cetaceae as an order. This requires a change in terminology, but no alteration in the point of the argument.
16E. J. Slijper, A. J. Pomerans, trans., Whales, 2d ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 60, 72, and 74. E. J. Slijper and D. Heinemann, "14 Whales (Cetaceans)," in Bernhard Grzimek, Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia 11 (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1972), 458; and Gingerich, Smith, and Simons, "Hind Limbs of Eocene Basilosaurus," 154.
17For example, some members of one gene family promote cell death whereas others tend to prevent it. See Jerry M. Adams and Suzanne Cory, "The Bcl-2 Protein Family: Arbiters of Cell Survival," Science 281 (28 August 1998): 1322-6.
18Recent work indicates this in plants. See Elizabeth Pennisi, "A Bonanza for Plant Genomics," Science 282 (23 October 1998): 654; M. D. Gale and K. M. Devos, "Plant Comparative Genetics after 10 Years," ibid., 656.
19Maria Barinaga, "Focussing on the eyeless Gene," Science 267 (24 March 1995): 1766f; George Halder, et al., "Induction of Ectopic Eyes by Targeted Expression of the eyeless Gene in Drosophila," ibid., 1788-92; "On the Path of the Primordial Eye," Science 275 (28 March 1997): 1885. Walter J. Gehring, "Letters," Science 272 (26 April 1996): 468f.
20S. Chu, et al., "The Transcriptional Program of Sporulation in Budding Yeast," Science 282 (23 October 1998): 704. David W. Meinke, et al., "Arabidopsis thaliana: A Model Plant for Genome Analysis," ibid., 681; Paul Berg and Maxine Singer, "Inspired Choices," Science 282 (30 October 1998): 874; Stephen A. Chervitz, et al., "Comparison of the Complete Protein Sets of Worm and Yeast: Orthology and Divergence," Science 282 (11 December 1998): 2022-8; Gary Ruvkun and Oliver Hobert, "The Taxonomy of Developmental Control in Caenorhabditis elegans," ibid., 2033-41.
21See Marcia Barinaga, "CRY's Clock Role Differs in Mice, Flies," Science 285 (23 July 1999): 506f.
22This in no way conflicts with the "butterfly effect," that a small cause, like an infinitesimal air pulse can trigger the events producing a major change in the weather on the other side of the world a month later. The reality is that the cause of the weather is not just the wing beat, which may be viewed as a precipitating cause, but has to include the atmosphere and its stratification, insolation, infrared absorption and reflection, terrestrial rotation, etc., in a complex of factors which have never been completely specified. Note also that someone may choose a different event or state as a precipitating cause.
23Here again is the alternative noted earlier: that the deity deliberately created a universe that would mislead. But this is totally out of keeping with Hebrew-Christian principles. It will not be pursued further.
24While it is true that Augustine's view was conditioned by a Latin mistranslation of the Greek text of the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 18:1, it can hardly be divorced from philosophical principles current at the time. Additionally, although not fully argued until De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (probably begun after 404 and finished before 420), this view is already suggested in De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (ca 393).
25I have noted this connection in Siemens, "Retrogression and Relapse: About Mills, Moreland, and their Ilk," PSCF 47 (December 1995): 284f, esp. p. 285. Traditional deism held that God created the universe and left it to run itself until the day of judgment, when he would intervene. The views evaluated here differ only in positing some divine interventions in an otherwise strictly causal universe.
26Traditional Calvinism sharply distinguishes creation and providence. However, Warfield appears to claim that Calvin differentiated them less markedly. See John H. Stek, "What Says the Scripture?" in Howard J. Van Till, et al., Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 242-6.
This is not the only matter in which Calvinists mistakenly projected temporality onto the deity. The multi-decade supralapsarian-infralapsarian (sublapsarian) controversy required a before and after in the divine will.
27See Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), 123f. However, this was not Beringer's view. He ascribed some to the flood, but most to natural causes. See his Chapters III and XIII in Melvin E. Jahn and Daniel J. Woolf, The Lying Stones of Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer: Being His Lithographiae Wirceburgensis (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963), 41f, 101-6.
Note that at the time of his publication (1726), spontaneous generation of insects had been disproved by Redi (1668) and Malpighi (1679), but it was still scientifically correct to claim that "seeds" of marine creatures could be blown into cracks in the earth and grow there. See pp. 38-46, 58-62, 142-53.
28Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels [Third Voyage], in Great Books of the Western World 36: 109-11.
29Hugh Ross, "Design and the Anthropic Principle," The Fingerprint of God, 2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing Co., 1991 ), 119-38; ------, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993), 105-36; ------, The Genesis Question, 31-3, 36, 43, 151, 180.
Dr. Ross, in his lectures and in The Genesis Question, pp. 39-44, 51f, claims that plants and animals were independently created during the third, fifth, and sixth day-ages. So he supports my argument only for the inorganic. However, on p. 46, he argues that the miracle in the inorganic is that the needed factors came out right. So this is a matter of natural law.
30This point is lost on most old-earth and recent creationists, for (1) they usually think that materialism and evolution are necessary concomitants, and (2) they do not recognize that their view of nature is essentially deistic.
31Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, loc. cit.
32The editor, three anonymous reviewers, and George Murphy made criticisms and suggestions which benefitted me greatly. I thank them. They bear no responsibility for any remaining shortcomings.