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The Origins War, Part 1

On the Creation Evolution conflict in the Church and understanding Scripture in a Scientific Age.

There are many points of contention, to put it gently, between Creationists and Evolutionists: How science should interpret or illuminate Scripture; Big Bang cosmology and the beginning of the material universe; age of the earth or length of days in creation; gradual formation of intended kinds or immediate kinds of creatures; did “death before sin” exclude animal death; human origins and the historical Adam and Eve; the long lifespans of the genealogical record; global flood or local flood–––to name the most prevalent. All said contentions originate in Genesis 1-11 and the accuracy of cosmological (Genesis 1:1–2:3), antediluvian (Genesis 2:4–8:19), and postdiluvian (Genesis 8:20–11:32) accounts. Each camp sources evidence for their scientific position from various passages scattered throughout the Bible – Job, Psalms, John, Romans, 2 Peter, et cetera – using Scripture as the final word or boundary line for how far science can reach without compromising or contradicting the text, or even for how science complements it. But this family feud has evolved into an all-out war, with one camp condemning the other as heretics and false teachers and the other camp reproaching the former for casting superfluous stumbling blocks at non-believers[1]. And when there’s war, there’s propaganda: Young Earthers lack intelligence, Old Earthers lack integrity. Creationists are too literal, and Evolutionists are too liberal.

While Young Earth Creationists (YEC) mostly agree that evolutionary beliefs do not a compromise salvation[2] – repentance and belief in Christ’s resurrection and ascension and full devotion thereof – they backdoor it as a salvation issue by claiming evolutionary beliefs compromise the gospel, likening the matter to the apostle Paul’s stern warning (Galatians 1:8). While this may not be intentional, this thick wedge has led to a widespread verdict that “there are Christians” and “there are Evolutionists”. For many YECs the creation account is integral, if not, necessary to the gospel and evolution contradicts this fact. To understand this, YECs believe in the plain reading of Biblical authority is above all and theology is the “Queen of sciences”. Genesis, then, clearly teaches a verbatim historical creation account of physical reality and is, largely, anti-poetry[3] because the theological teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles, as well as Fundamentalist and Evangelical theology, all presuppose the historicity of Genesis. Particularly, that sin and death entered the world through one de novo historical man: Adam (Romans 5:12-21, 6:23). With every textual detail having strict physical correspondence, it entails that our understanding of spiritual reality found in Genesis can be compromised or constrained to favour physical reality. This view is also known as the traditional view. In summary, Genesis 1-11 is a sequence of historical and scientific brute facts and modern science fills in the gaps. Genesis the bricks, science the mortar.

“Both camps affirm that a person’s scientific view of Genesis does not interfere with salvation by grace through faith.”

For Old Earth and Evolutionary Creationists (OEC), however, evolutionary beliefs have no bearing on the Gospel and modern science can fit into Scripture where it can. Genesis teaches that a physical creation happened, but it is primarily Hebrew poetry/narrative, so the historical and physical reality of this account can be compromised or constrained to emphasize theological understanding or a spiritual reality. This has led to a gradient of viewpoints: Genesis as (a) protohistory, early casual historical explanation dissimilar to our strict modern expectations for historical reliability, (b) ancient historiography, (c) historical poetry, (d) mythohistory, an historical account mixed with mythological archetypes and tropes, or (e) even as myth itself. This is largely because the content in Genesis 1-11 is very different from what we observe today and difficult to understand. It is also not considered essential for salvation and belief in Christ, nor does Genesis, New Testament, and Church history explicitly teach that it is doctrinally essential. In fact, the historicity of Genesis 1:1–2:3 is an age-old inquiry in the Church (and Judaism) long before modern science and evolutionary theory came about. Many OECs that affirm Biblical inerrancy maintain that Genesis is not an open book, but it is written in an ancient context, which is restrictive for modern science. Therefore, Genesis contains anchor points of truth like creation ex nihilo, historical Adam and Eve, the Fall, Flood, Babel, et cetera, but it does have a lot of wiggle room on the exact nature of these accounts since it’s not binding. OECs believe that science is independent of theology, so science can be used to support Scripture where it can, but not change what it teaches. Scripture provides objective spiritual truth; science provides objective physical truth. In summary, Genesis 1-11 is a sequence of historical anchor points that utilizes ancient narrative and poetical devices for spiritual revelation that can, in turn, be illuminated by scientific evidence. Again, Genesis the bricks, science the mortar–––the gaps are just wider, the bricks a bit looser. It is to this variation that I intend to refer to as OEC from this point on, those who maintain Biblical inerrancy and Scriptural authority, and not theistic evolutionists who write off Genesis as pure fiction. It is self-evident that if Genesis were a mere myth and robbed of its historicity, only “spiritual” with no real-world correspondence, then NT theology crumbles into abstraction (and many OECs adamantly agree). It’s just a matter of time.

YECs tend to be more uniform in doctrinal belief across ministries (Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, Institute for Creation Research, et cetera), but Christians who affirm evolutionary science vary in individualism and have wider nuanced beliefs (Reasons to Believe, BioLogos, The Discovery Institute, Reasonable Faith, et cetera), which makes it difficult to pin them all down at once without getting into tedious, minutia arguments. For sake of expedience, all Christians who affirm the notion that old earth evolution is compatible with Scripture – Old Earth (Progressive) Creationists, Intelligent Design, Evolutionary Creationists – fall under the umbrella of OEC in this series of articles.

Outlining the Battlefields

Now I hope you can tell that I’m condensing quite a bit, here. You may not even directly fall under either view. Or, perhaps, you may think our origin story doesn’t even matter. I, for one, think it does. Although I am a Creationist myself and not an Evolutionist, I’m much more of a centrist (not a popular position nowadays) when it comes to this conflict in the Church. That is, I am not a Young Earther nor am I an Old Earther. I do not think the scientific age of the earth is the heart of problem, so identifying as a “Young Earther”, in my mind, is a moot point. My mission is to provide clarity within the Church on this very tense topic.

Despite the rather large gap between them, there is good common ground, here, that should not be overlooked: Both camps affirm that a person’s scientific view of Genesis does not interfere with salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and that it is by faith that one understands the universe was created by the word of God (Hebrews 11:1-3). Both camps agree on the historical reality of the necessary anchor points presented in Scripture to retain theological sustenance, albeit differently. Instead, each camp is charging the other for muddying the water on what’s orthodoxy and obligatory belief. Using Scripture and science to thrash each other’s position on history, theology, and theodicy. The battle, then, is actually over what’s theologically optimal.

Now if you didn’t catch it, YECs have laid two accusations: (a) Evolution contradicts Scripture, and (b) evolution compromises the salvation call. Whereas OECs are on the defensive: (a) Evolution does not contradict Scripture, and (b) the traditional view of Genesis is not necessary for salvation. So, what is evolution? And more importantly: What is Scripture?

On the Natural World: Evolutionary Theory & Natural Theology

There are five evolutionary theses – ancient earth thesis (or old earth)[4], progress thesis[5], common ancestry thesis[6], descent with modification[7], and natural selection[8] – the latter two of which Creation Scientists (YEC) affirm in subtle variations only; if God created plants and animals “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:11-12, 21, 25), then crossbreeding, common ancestry and the morphological change from one kind to another kind is Scripturally deficient, from what I understand. This is in stark contrast to OECs who affirm all five models are plausible. That God created animals “according to their kinds” does not exclude how He made animals come into their own kind as we observe them today, where Scripture emphasizes God’s intention for kinds over the process of kinds, so the argument goes[9]. Of course, each biological evolutionary thesis is Darwinian by descent and propagated in naturalism, atheism, scientism, et cetera. That the origin of life and cosmos was not a special creation but blind, random processes over billions of years by virtue of the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry has become the hallmark of Darwin’s procession–––now the Neo-Darwinian worldview. Hence, the tension today. You’re either for Scripture or against it.

For one, I do not believe that we ought to appeal to purely natural stochastic processes to explain the origin of life and cosmos. Scripture doesn’t warrant such and neither does nature. The miracle of creation and its laws is far more commanding than mere natural correlations and predictions. Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the evolutionary alternative in naturalism. If evolution and naturalism are both true, then they consume one another in a vicious circle. You may have heard of the now famous evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), reinforced by the likes of Alvin Plantinga, C.S. Lewis, and even Charles Darwin. I need not rehash it all here, but the gist of it is that since we are a product of blind, random forces, then we have little to no reliable basis to trust our cognitive faculties. In other words, a person cannot rely on their sense experience, memory, reason and understanding for accurate interpretation of the external world. Not only does this push the need for consensus to have some resemblance of truth, but it pedestals consensus as the highest form of possible truth in naturalism (whether it is actually true or false is neither here nor there). This has led to the growing need for theistic superintendence over the evolutionary process. But the problem only gets worse. Even if evolution and naturalism were both true, there is no obligation to believe it is true (I was randomly selected to feel this way, after all). In fact, there is no obligation or incentive to uphold truth at all if naturalism is true. Evidence only matters in a world where truth matters, particularly, moral truth. If survival first, then the desire to uphold truth can oppose self-interest and be less desirable[10]. Consensus, then, can easily overpower one’s accountability to the truth if social survival (quality of living) or physical survival is on the line.

To compound this dilemma further, all scientific predictions on the origins of life and the material universe assume that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4) and can only predict and correlate data based on what we observe today, and prediction is a strong word. The conclusions cannot be verified. The correlations cannot be proven. And over time new data comes along that alters the theory’s conclusion. It is solely scientific guesswork, albeit probabilistic, reasonable, and persuasive, with degrees of reliability and justification, but ultimately not as deeply integral to life now as spiritual (objective) truth. Our immediate sense experience and consciousness (as well as the inner witness of the Holy Spirit for Christians, Romans 8:14-16) is far more certain than our probabilistic attempts to reverse engineer an origin story. This only intensifies the problem for scientific naturalists. Many naturalists cannot see a way around the hard problem of solipsism if naturalism is true, that you cannot prove and know anything outside of your conscious, sense experience truly exists, such as the external world (science) and other minds. Everything outside of one’s mind is uncertain. Naturalism is in a catch-22. You need consensus to have some form of higher truth, but you cannot trust the consensus or yourself! Truth in naturalism lacks impetus, obligation, and incentive, so any naturalistic standard, whether it is of mere scientific consensus or self-awareness, is not binding–––evolution included. The only reason why an obligation to truth on the origins of life and cosmos matters at all, as opposed to consensus among peers, is solely because of God, and Scripture testifies that He is the truth, the way, and the life (cf. John 14:6). So–––what use is probabilistic belief, which serves no practical purpose in everyday life, if it contradicts or compromises the teachings of God? What matters most, then, is what God says. This war over our origin story is, above all, a theological one. If there’s no Scripture, there’s no war.

That said, if something is true, then we ought to expect, if not, anticipate said truth in the real-world, independent of the Bible, which is why the feud is so heated. If external evidence from nature overwrites what the text teaches is true, it loses its sense of divine supervision, and Scripture testifies to real-world, historical facts that happened outside of the text. Anything taught in a historical context in Scripture is history. If scientific evidence verifies something is fact, then it ought to synchronize (well) with the Biblical data. That is, the Bible will not oppose or teach contrary views to reality. This harmonious relationship between the two is greater than just scientific or historical confirmation; even so far as to implicitly know and “suppress the truth” of the supernatural origin and divine participation in the world, as corroborated by Paul who argues that God’s “invisible attributes” are plainly visible in creation (Romans 1:18-20). God has revealed Himself to humanity through His creation (general revelation) and His heart through Scripture (special revelation)[11], so the material universe that is reliably verifiable through the canons of observation, experiment, and reason ought to act as supporting evidence for Biblical account and vice versa. The presuppositional warrant on the relationship between science and Scripture, then, is grounded in natural theology. Where they disagree is on the weight of evidence. YECs believe evidence found in nature is subservient to the Bible, OECs mostly believe there are two complementary books: Scripture and Nature[12]. I’m going to come back to this in a bit. So, is the evidence found in nature, as depicted in evolutionary models, complementary or contradictory to what Scripture testifies about creation?

A Reasonable Doubt

Independent of Scripture, there are many reasons to doubt naturalistic evolution. Space forbids me from going overboard, so here are but a handful: (a) All cosmological models infer a beginning of the universe, which means that when the cosmos came into being there was a point “before” the fundamental properties of the universe – time, space, energy, mass, gravity, force, laws of nature, et cetera – and directly points to a supernatural origin point for the creation of all things: spaceless, timeless, nonmaterial, uncaused, and unimaginably powerful (God); (b) All models lack the explanatory power for the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of the universe as well as the “anthropic question” for why the laws of nature are fine-tuned for a life permitting world; (c) It further lacks an explanatory mechanism for how life and consciousness came into being through the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry alone; (d) It is observably unfalsifiable because the end result of large-scale cosmological and biochemical processes cannot be fully empirically verified, tested, reproduced, and repeated like the origin of the universe (Big Bang), origin of life, and the evolution of new forms of life (progress thesis, common ancestry, and descent with modification, i.e., Tyrannosaurus Rex evolving into chickens)[13]; (e) the fossil record demonstrates an abrupt, rapid appearance of all complex lifeforms and nearly all present-day animals phyla with zero transitional fossils in the strata before the Cambrian era. This Cambrian explosion not only undermines the universal common ancestry thesis because there is no evidence of intermediate fossils, the gradual modification from anatomically simple cellular lifeforms to complex lifeforms like trilobites and dinosaurs over millions of years, it also sounds remarkably similar to the Genesis account of sudden creation or sudden flood; (f) DNA and RNA, highly complex biochemical language needed for all living organisms to exist and function, work together to make proteins, and need the help of proteins to make more proteins. This co-dependent relationship (a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma) means that DNA and RNA would need to evolve simultaneously to function, all by chance; (g) It is also mathematically implausible in such a short period of time (only 4.5 billion years!) for blind, random (intentionless) forces to form a single protein all on its own, a vital component for life, as well as for genetic mutations to naturally create new species with useful variations because the rate of harmful mutations is greater than the rate of beneficial mutations, and then require an added “waiting time” for beneficial mutations to become fixed within a population–––that is, without superintendence.[14][15] To produce the vast genetic diversity of plants and creatures inhabiting the world, God could not have left the “mechanism” of evolution to its own devices lest it fail to do its due diligence. God would need to oversee and speed up the process for microevolution to flourish[16]. In other words, all evolutionists need more time for their models to work naturally[17]. And many non-Christian thinkers agree[18]. So, theistic evolutionists are in no position to charge YECs for the ad hocness of God fast-forwarding His creative process like time-lapse video if God had to do so with the genome in standard evolutionary models (cf. Jonah 4:6-7; Mark 11:12-14, 20-21).

A Natural Conclusion

If there’s a lot of room to doubt naturalistic models, I see no practical reason to appeal or adopt belief in evolutionary processes, such as common ancestry or progress thesis, through theistic superintendence either. The big questions remain unanswered, and quite frankly, will never be answered within a natural framework–––which is all science can hope to do. They have a bunch of mortar, but no bricks. So much so that God is backdoored as the intentional designer to fill in the gaps for the positive evidence that does point to evolution. But the weight of evidence is one-sided, in my view, and can have alternative explanations under different presuppositional frameworks. The burden of proof rests entirely on evolution’s shoulders, however broad they may appear to be.

That said, I also see no reason to condemn those who hold to evolutionary views, either. Conclusions drawn in science are not set in stone (fossil record included!). Historical science offers degrees of probability and reliability, not universal certainties. There is still plenty of room for reinterpretation of the scientific data, leading to an overarching theory or framework. Contention among brethren need not be met with contempt. Even if one holds Genesis to be myth, allegory, or poetry, they are not automatically apostate or anathema. One’s (mis)understanding of nature and theology does not erase God’s grace. There is an underlying problem here, that runs much deeper than a factual dispute.

Despite the tension, there is good news. Both scientific positions, Young or Old, reveal an inescapable conclusion: the miraculous origin of the material universe as well as the astonishing fine-tuned precision, complexity, sophistication, and elegance for life to exist and function, all points to God’s existence, intelligence, and eternal power. And it is not just the inconceivably fine-tuned cosmos or cell that sparks reaction, it is how consciousness is fine-tuned with it. The mathematical likelihood of everything occurring by chance alone is so infinitesimal low, it’s beyond improbable–––it’s impossible. A miracle. Science is doing its job very well, theologically speaking.

At any rate, I do not intend to further engage this debate in any scientific detail because I do not believe Scripture warrants a scientific interpretation of itself. My conviction that the central set of evolutionary theories are all false save a restricted sense of natural selection and descent with modification is partly based on the limitations of historical science and partly based on religious presuppositions implicit in theory-making. The age of the earth (or the exact length of the days) is also of little concern to me, as I’ve mentioned before. Even though a young earth appears to be the strongest rendering of the text, an old earth model does not demand death before sin (I’ll explain why in an upcoming entry). But even more than my understanding of life and cosmos (or lack thereof), I believe that evolution, whether of naturalistic or theistic origin, is mostly false because Scripture indicates otherwise. But not in the way that you’re probably thinking.

Moving Forward

I deeply care about the sanctification of God’s people through the spiritual understanding of Scripture. Science is not focused on such things; it’s focus is on physical knowledge. If given too much attention, it can yield peculiar interpretation. So–––I’m throwing my hat in the ring. There is a big difference between discovering external data that corroborates the Biblical account and using the Bible as a scientific data mine for theory-making. It is not that Creation scientists or Young Earthers cannot use the Bible as a source per se, by using historical anchor points as limitations, rather it is about the scope of what the Bible teaches. On the other side, loosening bricks or chipping holes in the mortar to force a brick where it doesn’t fit is of no use, either. Forcing scientific data into Scripture and inferring scientific data from Scripture detracts from the intention of Scripture and puts too much emphasis on the created things rather than the Creator, which can inadvertently skew interpretation and undermine the essentialness of spiritual story. It is from this vantage point that I intend to show why science, especially Evolution, is largely incompatible with understanding theological patterns profitable for teaching and, more importantly, because it affects the Church at large, I want to show what’s lost when science is imposed on the text. In the next series of entries, I will focus more on the question What is Scripture? as well as the importance of a spiritual emphasis when reading Scripture, and why using Scripture as a scientific textbook misappropriates the most valuable aspects for understanding the patterns of what the Bible teaches.

Continue Reading >

 

Matlock Bobechko | Published on July 26, 2021 – 2:00 PM EST


 

[1] S. Joshua Swamidass, William Lane Craig: An Exchange with Ken Ham. Peaceful Science. Published on February 15, 2021. https://peacefulscience.org/wlc-responds-ham/

[2] Answers in Genesis, Statement of Faith: The Triune God, #8. “The scientific aspects of creation are important but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge (1 Corinthians 15:3–5)
https://answersingenesis.org/about/faith/

[3] Russell Grigg, Should Genesis be taken literally? Creation Ministries International. Extracted from Creation 16(1):38–41, December 1993. https://creation.com/should-genesis-be-taken-literally

[4] Ancient earth thesis is the age of the earth. Evolutionists affirm the earth is 4.5 billion years old, plus or minus about 50 million years. Connected to this thesis is the cosmological timeline that the universe is 15-13.8 billion years old, the biological timeline that life is 3.5 billion years old, all major animal phyla and lifeforms as we know it is 541 million years old, and mammalian life is 60 million years old.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism, 8.

[5] Progress thesis is that life progressed from relatively simple to complex lifeforms and continue to progressively become better over the course of time.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism, 8-9.

[6] Common ancestry thesis is that life originated at only one place on earth, all subsequent life being related by a descent to those original living creatures––creating a tree of evolutionary descent linking all organisms by ties of genealogy. This view is usually connected with descent with modification thesis and is often considered the central thesis of evolution.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism, 9.

[7] Descent with modification thesis is the enormous diversity of life we see today has come about by way of offspring differing, in small and subtle ways, from their parents.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism, 9.

[8] Natural selection thesis (also known as Darwinism) is that there is a naturalistic mechanism driving this process of descent with modification: the current model operates on random genetic mutation. Natural selection is a principle of order that leads to adaptation, not a principle of disorder that leads to chaos.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism, 9.

[9] The notion that God intended for lifeforms to become a kind distinct from another kind (as we see them today in their present form, unable to crossbreed) through a common ancestor and process of descent with modification does not necessarily contradict the traditional view of the creation account, albeit under greater restrictions: beneficial mutations through reproduction only, God used single cell to form several kinds of animals, et cetera.

[10] Naturalism has an inherent conflict of interest: there is greater incentive for self-interest over altruism, and greater incentive to lie than to be honest for self-gain.

[11] General revelation is that creation as well as our reason and conscience implicitly point to, if not, prove God’s existence, nature, and power. That is through our perceived knowledge of God through existential reasoning, necessity of truth, the origin of life and cosmos, and our innate sense of moral understanding. Therefore, general revelation predicates the special revelatory discernment of God through the Holy Spirit and Scriptural understanding. Special revelation increases the knowledge of God intimately, it does not oppose or revoke it. To abandon a sense of general revelation as a non-Christian, then, is to put a stumbling block in the way of seeking the truth–––God.

[12] Ted Davis, Old-Earth (Progressive) Creationism: History and Beliefs. BioLogos. Published on June 19, 2012.
https://biologos.org/series/science-and-the-bible/articles/old-earth-progressive-creationism-history-and-beliefs

[13] A conclusion drawn in historical science can hide behind the reliability of operational science. Correlations do not infer causation. The interpretation of correlations precedes and presides over the conclusion, and our presuppositions precede and preside over the interpretation. When contrasting current natural processes to historical supernatural causation, like things popping into physical existence, indications and correlations extracted from data/experiment would appear irrational to accept as scientific data based on natural presuppositions alone.

[14] Peter Robinson interviews David Berlinski, David Gelernter, Stephen Meyer, Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Uncommon Knowledge. Published on July 22, 2019.

[15] Michael Behe, The Edge of Evolution (New York: Free Press, 2008).

[16] David Gelernter, Claremont Review of Books, “But the theory understands that mutations are rare, and successful one’s are even scarcer. To balance that out, there are many organisms and a staggering immensity of time. Your chances of winning might be infinitesimal.”
Extracted from Uncommon Knowledge. Peter Robinson interviews David Berlinski, David Gelernter, Stephen Meyer, Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Published on July 22, 2019.

[17] Jonathan McLatchie, The Search for Adam and Eve: Human Origins According to Scripture and Science. Published on December 8, 2020.

The Search for Adam and Eve: Human Origins According to Scripture and Science

[18] Thomas Nagel, David Berlinski, David Gelernter, Antony Flew, Philip Goff, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, among others. It’s a growing trend.