February 15, 1993
Rev. Thomas E. Tyson, Editor
303 Horsham Road, Suite G
Horsham, PA 19044-2029
I am not sure where to begin in commenting on the February 1993 special issue of New Horizons devoted to Creation and evolution. I am fully convinced that nothing but careful and patient discussion of each point raised in the articles can demonstrate the errors contained in them. If you choose to print any of this letter (no doubt it will be too long to publish in its entirety), I hope that what is printed will be a fair representation of the whole. I plan to distribute the full content of this letter to others, and, if you like, you may invite the interested reader to contact me for the full letter. I will try to write so that the first paragraph in each section can be used as summarizing and representing my criticisms.
First, let me express my disappointment at the lack of a balanced treatment of the subject. I am sure you are aware that there are many of us in the OPC who reject the simplistic analysis found in the first two articles. There is a long and noble tradition among conservative Presbyterians that sees no conflict between a very old earth and the Genesis account. There are also those of us who see that an evolutionary account of the development of life on earth is not incompatible with the Genesis creation account in particular or with a Christian worldview in general. I am thinking of the Old Princeton theologians Charles Hodge (who had no necessary disagreements with old earth geologists of his day), A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield (who have been counted among Darwin's forgotten defenders; see Darwin's Forgotten Defenders by David N. Livingstone (Eerdmans, 1987)). More on this later. More recently are the views of OP's (or former OP's) Davis Young (Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan, 1982), Richard Wright (Biology Through the Eyes of Faith, Harper and Row, 1989), and myself. I regret that you did not include someone sympathetic with these views to balance the one-sided perspective.
"God Spoke ... and It Was Done" by Everett C. DeVelde
The article by Everett DeVelde has several scientific errors and misrepresentations. His discussion of the "dust on the moon" as an argument for a young moon and a recent creation of all things is part of the standard arsenal of the so-called scientific creationists. Unfortunately, he commits the same unscientific errors that many of these people commit. He continues to propagate an argument that has been clearly refuted, even by scientists who are Christians. There is an excellent discussion of the "dust on the moon" issue, written by Clarence Menninga, a Christian geologist at Calvin College, in Chapter 4 of the book Science Held Hostage (IVP, 1988). Menninga traces the discussions in the scientific literature between 1950 and 1975 and shows that by the late 1960's (even before the lunar landing) there was a significant consensus among scientists that there would be appreciable dust but that it would likely be firmly packed. A thin layer of loose dust above a several meter thick layer of firmly packed material was exactly what was found by the manned and unmanned explorations. Menninga also shows how the moon dust argument came into the creationist literature and became one of its supportive myths. DeVelde's use of such an argument after it has been so clearly refuted is irresponsible.
DeVelde's belief that stars are nothing more than "wave fronts of light striking the surface of the earth" is astonishing. It is modern refusal to look into Galileo's telescope. Astronomers today use telescopes that detect the full range of electromagnetic radiation (including visible light) that is being emitted from stars. These studies reveal a structure to starlight that only the most closed minds would fail to see as evidence for the existence of real stars light years away from earth. Starlight comes in various forms, e.g. differing intensities, with differing line spectrum revealing differing elemental composition, evidences suggesting differing origination distances. A discussion of many of these experimental data concerning the stars and the basis for modern astronomical and cosmological theories is found in The Fourth Day by H.J. Van Till, a Christian physicist at Calvin College (Eerdmans, 1986). Admittedly, I must distance myself from some of Van Till's views found in The Fourth Day with regard to such theological questions as the nature and authority of scripture, the historicity of Adam, and the religious neutrality of science. But his presentation of the state of modern astronomy and cosmology is lucid and is done in a way that honors God as the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe.
DeVelde confuses the big bang theory with the nebular hypothesis for the origin of the solar system. Big bang theory really says nothing about the origin of the planets. The prograde motion (planetary rotation in the same direction as the planet's revolution around the sun) and the near perpendicularity of their rotation axis to the solar revolution plane of most of the planets is an evidence (among others) for the presently formulated nebular hypothesis. DeVelde raises some interesting questions about the retrograde motion of Uranus and Venus that astronomers continue to work on. But so far there appear to be reasonable hypotheses that explain these difficulties so that the theory with adjustments that accounts for these observations is still widely believed. (A recent article in the journal Science (January 15, 1993, pp. 350-354) reveals that scientists are honest about these difficulties and continue to study them.)
I find it fascinating that DeVelde recognizes the current findings of modern chemistry and particle physics as he refers to "atomic building blocks, with their protons, neutrons, electrons, leptons, mesons, neutrinos, quarks, etc." The methods and theoretical frameworks that lead to accepting these findings are the very same ones denied in his discussion of starlight. Apparently, since the Bible doesn't say anything about atoms or sub-atomic particles, we are free to theorize to our heart's content. It is interesting that during the 17th and 18th centuries there was much opposition to atomic theories because they promoted a mechanistic view of reality that eliminated God's role in sustaining and determining the course of the universe.
Finally, DeVelde's comments about the scientific community moving "significantly from the sort of evolutionary theory proposed by Charles Darwin" are simply untrue. If he is talking about recent criticisms of Darwinism raised by paleontologists such as Steven Jay Gould or Niles Eldridge, then his statement is at best very misleading. These criticisms are concerning some of the details of the theory and not its overarching claims. If he is referring to recent books hailing the demise of evolutionary theory, such as Evolution: A Theory in Crisis by Michael Denton or Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, then he is greatly mistaken if he thinks that these old and worn criticisms are influencing the professional scientific community. (See my own review of Johnson's book in The Banner, April 13, 1992.) In the books, professional journals, and professional meetings that I am familiar with, evolutionary theory is alive and well.
"Evolution's Assault on the Divine" by Edward Mellott
The article by Edward Mellott promotes an erroneous view that often arises in these discussions. In a simplistic fashion he forces us to choose between godless evolution and Divine creation. This is a false dilemma promoted by the advocates of "scientific" creationism. This debate is not between evolution (as a scientific theory) and creation, but between EVOLUTIONISM (as a worldview) and creation. No doubt some evolutionists do put the issue in the same terms as the "scientific" creationists, i.e. they would claim that evolutionary theory is an evidence for atheism and against Christianity. This should be of no surprise to us since unbelievers, according to Romans 1, suppress the truth and deny God's existence. But these evolutionists are just as wrong as the creationists on this claim. I am sympathetic with many of Mellott's arguments if they are understood as criticisms of evolutionism, i.e. evolution as an all encompassing worldview. No Christian could deny the falsity of a theory that attacks God's Word, power, authority, and wisdom. Of course, the biological theory of evolution suggests no such thing; only the atheistic worldview promulgated by unbelieving scientists suggests these things.
I can think of no better way to support my point here than by quoting from A.A. Hodge, the Old Princeton theologian whose commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and to the Reformed faith is beyond question. Hodge writes the following in the Introduction to Theism and Evolution by Joseph S. Van Dyke and reprinted in The Princeton Theology 1812-1921 edited and compiled by Mark Noll (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1983):
Evolution considered as the plan of an infinitely wise Person and executed under the control of His everywhere present energies can never be irreligious; can never exclude design, providence, grace, or miracles. Hence we repeat that what christians have cause to consider with apprehension is not evolution as a working hypothesis of science dealing with facts, but evolution as a philosophical speculation professing to account for the origin, causes, and end of all things.
Hodge's colleague and contemporary at Princeton, B.B. Warfield, wrote the following in his unpublished "Lectures on Anthropology" (Dec. 1888) (cited in Darwin's Forgotten Defenders, p. 119):
The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law and which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions,we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.
I could cite other passages in Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and in J. Gresham Machen. This is how I and others who might agree with me hold to the theory of evolution. We do not deny God's creating all things from nothing or that all things are the result of his sovereign and all-wise and perfect will. We do not deny the uniqueness of man as a being created in the image of God or the special creation of the human soul or the historicity of Adam and Eve as the first man and woman or the existence of miracles. In fact to my knowledge, properly held, the theory of evolution can be espoused without denying any teaching of scripture (much the way that Everett DeVelde appears to hold to modern atomic theories).
"Was Adam an Historical Person?" by Robert B. Strimple
As suggested by the previous paragraph, I have no disagreements with Strimple's article. It is an excellent presentation of the arguments of the necessity of an historical Adam. He does make occasional references to denials of an historical Adam on the basis of evolutionary views. But these denials are not necessary consequences of evolutionary theory. One may hold to an evolutionary theory (such as described above) that in every way affirms the unity of all the human race in the one and first and historical man, Adam. (See B.B. Warfield's "The Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race", reprinted in Noll's The Princeton Theology 1812-1921, for a fine discussion of the necessity of the unity of the human race to Christian theology, but the irrelevance of the antiquity of the human race to the same.)
"Is Evolution Biblical?" by John Murray
Murray's argument and its continued support by his successors at both Westminster Seminaries has influenced most, if not all, of those who sat at their feet to deny the possibility of human evolution. Murray's exegesis of Genesis 2:7 even requires the rejection of the mediating position that some of the Old Princeton theologians allowed, i.e. that the human body had evolutionary origins but that the human soul was specially and supernaturally created. Adoption of Murray's position requires us to set ourselves in complete opposition to the conclusions of modern science concerning the origin of human beings. While such opposition may be necessary, I think that it should be done only after the most careful consideration of the exegetical, theological, and scientific issues. I would like to suggest that there are several good reasons to call Murray's argument into question. In doing so I am simply asking that we continue to regard the question of animal ancestry of the human body as an open question about which we may continue to study and discuss and attempt to relate to the teaching of scripture.
As I understand it, Murray's argument is quite simple. The Hebrew term for living creature used in Genesis 2:7 is used generically of all creatures (see Gen. 1: 21, 24, 30). God's in-breathing of the breath of life into the dust is what constituted Adam as man and as living creature. Therefore no part of Adam, not even his body, could have been a living creature prior to that in-breathing. Consequently, animal ancestry is ruled out.
This otherwise compelling argument is not compelling to me for the following reasons:
1.) Since God is the Creator of the world, the findings of a systematic study of God's creation (science), properly interpreted, cannot conflict with the revelation of God as it is found in the Bible. If there is an apparent conflict, it is due to the sinful and/or finite human interpretation of the Creation and/or of the Scriptures. (See Chapter 11, "Creationism, Evangelism, and Apologetics" in Christianity and the Age of the Earth by Davis Young for an excellent discussion of this.)
2.) The biological evidence points toward an animal ancestry of humans. Of course, there are many difficulties that still need to be worked out by evolutionary biologists, paleontologists, and anthropologists. But among professional biologists, even among those who are Christians, theories of human evolution are thought to be the best explanation of the data. In my mind the most convincing lines of evidence are in the areas of genetics, molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry. These evidences are recent additions to the more classical evidences from anatomy, physiology, developmental biology, biogeography, and paleontology. Scientific creationists and a few others have tried to argue that the evidence for all evolution (and especially human evolution) is weak and not compelling and that the reason for its widespread acceptance is a religious commitment to an atheistic origins account. While this may be true for some, it is simply not true of all or even most biologists. Biologists who accept evolutionary theory have religious views ranging from atheism, to agnosticism, to theism. And among the evolutionists who are also theists, most of the theological and denominational spectrum is covered. In other words, the majority of biologists who accept evolutionary theory do so not for any particular religious reason but because the evidence compels them.
3.) So what do we do when we find an apparent contradiction as we do with Murray's interpretation of Genesis 2:7 and the seemingly compelling evidence from science. Let me turn this time to Charles Hodge for the answer. Here Hodge is discussing the apparent conflict between the old-earth geology (a new theory in his day) and the Genesis account (from Systematic Theology 1:570-571, cited in Noll, The Princeton Theology.) .
It is of course admitted that taking this account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other. Now it is urged that if the word "day" be taken in the sense of "an indefinite period of time," a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvelous coincidence between them.
Sometimes we may be forced to take the less natural sense of a passage, because we know that it can't have the natural meaning given the broader context. We often do this as we compare scripture with scripture. (For example, think about the Calvinistic approaches to 1 John 2:2.) Hodge seems to be suggesting that the same procedure be used in adjudicating science/Bible conflicts. Simply put, if mature science is telling us that the human body has animal ancestry, and our Biblical exegesis is telling us otherwise, if possible, "it is obligatory on us" to come up with a slightly less natural but equally reasonable interpretation of the Biblical text. When this occurs, then as Hodge put it, we have a most marvelous coincidence between science and the Bible.
4.) The solution then is quite simple. I think it is possible to understand Genesis 2:7 to say that when God breathed into Adam the breath of life, man as man became a living creature. In this special creative act, not only was the soul of Adam created, but man as body and soul, as the divine image bearer, resulted. In other words man as man does not come about by virtue of the "evolution of potencies resident in 'dust from the ground'", but as a result of the special act of God.
5.) I am not convinced that Genesis 2:7 is intended to bear the weight of the interpretation that Murray places upon it. In the section on "Inbreathing" Murray comments "We may not know the precise nature of the action denoted by 'breathed in his nostrils'". Here he acknowledges the anthropomorphic and non-scientific character of this account. Thus, even in the absence of what appears to be compelling scientific evidence, one might question the finality of Murray's conclusion. I find it remarkable that human evolution is dismissed, even as a possibility, in the face of substantial evidence in its favor on the basis of a single phrase of scripture. Is it not sufficient to say that Genesis 2:7 is teaching us humanity's affinity with the rest of creation (dust of the earth) and the biological world (living creature), humanity's unique origin, and the fundamental discontinuity between humans and non-humans?
For Christ and His kingdom,
Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.