Evolution and Age

I want to begin by thanking Gavin Ortland for his friendly rejoinder to my recent piece on young earth creation. In the spirit of encouraging all such friendly rejoinders, let me here supply a few of my own. I will just locate a few brief comments under his numbered items.

1. First, writing as one who accepts microevolution (variation within kinds) and who does not accept macroevolution (transition from one kind to another), I cheerfully grant his point that some old earthers reject the same kind of evolution that I reject. Not every old earth creationist is a theistic evolutionist. I am happy to acknowledge that, and not begrudgingly either.

At the same time, my post was part of a series responding to BioLogos, which does support theistic evolution, and which has somehow attracted significant evangelical support. Theistic evolution of this kind creates enormous theological problems (all connected to “what is an Adam?”), and I would welcome the participation of creationist old earthers in that debate.

2. Under his second point, Gavin raises a number of reasonable questions — questions that every student of Scripture should want to see carefully addressed. As I respond, please remember that a separate book could be written on each point.

First, on the question of natural evil, my brother Gordon Wilson has written an important article on this subject, and I will supply a link here when I get hold of it. Update: that link can be found here. Gordon’s abstract starts on page 8.

Second, I do not believe that the second law of thermodynamics was introduced at the Fall. Could an unfallen Adam have seen increased entropy by shuffling a deck of cards? “Darn! Another royal flush!” I believe that leaves could rot on the ground in Eden, and that Adam and Eve could eat fruit that was broken down in their stomachs by industrious dismantling enzymes. What happened in the Fall was the river of entropy flooded its banks. The river was always there, but became universally destructive. Paul refers to this when he says that the creation was “made subject to vanity,” or “bondage to corruption.”

Until Someone Unsettles It

The creation account in Genesis is read in different ways. It would be easy therefore, to jump right into the Genesis text and show that I read it in one of those different ways.

I do read it in one of those different ways, and bringing out arguments accordingly would be easy. Before getting to my main set of points, let me give just one example. All sides agree that the Hebrew word for day — yom — admits of different meanings, just as the English word day does. For example, I could say, “Back in my grandfather’s day, he was a champion at picking corn, and, while it was day, could average ten bushels a day.” Now several things are true about this. One is that my grandfather really was a champion at picking corn, but that is another story for another time. The second thing is that day has three different meanings in the course of just one sentence. Day first means time, “in my grandfather’s time.” Second, it means “while the sun was up,” day as opposed to night. And third, it meant “twenty-hour increments,” Tuesday and then Wednesday, and so on. But the third thing to note about this is that for native speakers of English, the different uses of day do not throw us in a state of consternation. We pick up on all kinds of contextual clues that enable us to tell what is going on. Now when the Hebrew word yom is used elsewhere in Scripture, and is associated with evening and morning, it always means twenty-four hour day. And when it is used with either a cardinal or ordinal number it always means day.

Okay, so this is me taking my position about Genesis in a discussion of Genesis. But let’s come at this from another angle. Since we are talking about readings of Genesis, let’s turn to other readings of Genesis elsewhere in Scripture and see what we find there.

Since this is a debate about the interpretation of a passage, I want to begin by appealing to authorities, of equal authority to Genesis, who are themselves interpreting the passage. Not surprisingly, I want to begin with the Lord Jesus.

1. In His discussion of divorce, Jesus refers to the first man and the first woman, and He does so leaving an incidental time stamp on His statement, revealing how He understood the relative timing of the creation and the lives of our first parents.

“But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;” (Mark 10:6–7).

The Lord says that God made man “male and female” from the beginning (arche) of creation (ktisis). Now this makes good sense if Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of creation, at the climax of that week, but it makes no sense if Adam and Eve emerged from a group of hominids billions of years after the first act of creation. Jesus doesn’t say He created us male and female from the beginning of our race. God created us male and female at the beginning of the creation.

Now any sentence that begins with “the Lord Jesus was wrong about Genesis because . . .” is theologically problematic. There are those who want to understand the incarnation in accommodationist terms, wherein Jesus fully participated in the ignorance of His times on certain matters. But this creates insurmountable problems for anyone who wants to call Jesus Lord. If He was mistaken about something like this, if He was reading the text wrong, what shall we then do with the Sermon on the Mount? What shall we do with those portions of the Sermon on the Mount that are particularly, um, confining?

Natural Evil and the Classical Christian School

One of the central arguments that materialistic atheism offers against the Christian faith is that the reality and universality of suffering is inconsistent with the doctrine that we were created by, and are loved by, a gracious heavenly Father. If we intend to do our job in training our students to be able to defend their faith as they go out into the world, it seems to me that we ought not to begin by granting the foundational premise of unbelief.

Believe me, the pressing reality of natural evil is a major argument that the atheists use, and the theistic evolutionists will have to do a lot better than they have done thus far in mounting a reply.

If evolution was God’s means of creating, then this means that pain, struggle, suffering, agony, and torment were His means of creation, and He pronounced all of it “good.”

There are two kinds of evil that we have to consider — natural evil and moral evil. While moral evil is more horrendous, it is a little easier to handle because we are doing so much of it to ourselves. We can handle that another time. But natural evil is a different thing altogether, and on the theistic evolutionary account natural evil cannot be considered evil at all.

Here we have to posit millions of years of death-dealing events — volcanoes, floods, tar pits, and so on — without anybody having done anything wrong such that it would bring this state of affairs about. This is just how God likes to do things.

This means that the pain and suffering of sentient animals has to be simply dismissed with a wave of the hand. It is no longer the problem of evil, but rather “evil? no problem!”

BioLogos, Respectability, and Classical Christian Education

As classical Christian education has made it through our first round of trials, which threatened to make us fail through failure, we have now come to the much greater test, one that would make us fail through success. With hard work comes success, and with success comes respectability, and with respectability comes . . . spiritual heat death. As Cotton Mather once put it with regard to physical blessings, faithfulness begets prosperity, and the daughter devours the mother. Or as Moses put it, on the same topic, “Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein . . . thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). The same principle applies to the intellectual fruit of hard academic labor.

Graduates of classical Christian schools are much sought after. They have been taught well, and it shows, and those of us in the movement have heard story after story of how this graduate got a high flying scholarship, and how that one was recruited for the honors program, and so on. We are proud of our students, and rightfully so. But one of the central tests of how we are teaching our students is going to be seen in how they respond to this praise from the world. With the arrival of this praise comes the temptation to want it in the wrong way. The respectability that got there by not caring at all what they think becomes the kind of respectability that cares very much what they think.

And I am convinced that this is one of the reasons why evolutionary thinking is starting to make a play for our community of schools. We have shown that our graduates are smart and well-educated, and this is recognized by all. And nobody wants to see such a fine group of students wasting their intellectual talents on what the establishment considers the equivalent of geocentric flat-earthism.

So let’s move on to the issue of evolution and how it relates to our schools.

“We at BioLogos agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created.”

I first want to focus on the phrase “agree with the modern scientific consensus.”

7 Reasons Why BioLogos Is A Threat to Classical Christian Education

Before getting into the thicket, let me briefly define my terms and say a few preliminary things about my concerns. First, by BioLogos I mean this particular project as an attempt to harmonize biological evolution and Christian faith. Second, while I believe that this attempt (however well-intentioned) is a threat to every form of Christian education, I am focusing on classical Christian education because that is where my labors have largely been. And third, nothing said here is intended to question the sincerity or niceness of any particular BioLogos brothers and sisters. I believe their vision is destructive, but if a destructive vision is being promulgated here by very nice people, it wouldn’t be the first time.

There are many places where I could launch this discussion, but I think I will start with the historicity of Adam and Eve.

“Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago. This conflicts with the traditional view that all humans descended from a single pair who lived about 10,000 years ago. While Genesis 2-3 speaks of the pair Adam and Eve, Genesis 4 refers to a larger population of humans interacting with Cain. One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an “everyman” story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God. BioLogos does not take a particular view and encourages scholarly work on these questions.”

1. The first thing to notice is that while encouraging “scholarly work on these questions,” they are not subjecting their own options to any kind of rigorous or logical analysis. So genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand about 150,000 years ago? Now when walking upstream like this, one wonders why they stopped right where they decided to stop.

This is because we could also say that genetic evidence shows that humans descended from about a billion people 200 years ago. And when we greet the several thousand ancestors from 150,000 years ago one wonders (does one not?) whether they had parents, whether they had common ancestors. What possible reason could we have for tracing our human ancestry to its point of origin, but then stopping a few centuries short? I’ll bet with a little scholarly work on this question we could go upstream a little bit further. We might even get to meet our mother Eve and discover just how hairy her back was, and how good she was at picking nits from Adam’s scalp.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Okay, so it is a bit disturbing when the head transubstantiationist says that we need not believe in magic.

Now I grant that his subject was not the Lord’s Supper, but rather creation and evolution, but still. His subject was God’s relationship to the world, which is relevant in all things. We must keep in mind that the pontiff’s remarks were run through the interpretive grid of journalism, which has an enormous capacity to muddle things, but even so, we also have to admit that these comments, taken at face value, are what analytic logicians are wont to call a “dog’s breakfast.”

In their scramble to stay away from boo! words and phrases, respectable theologians can talk almost perfect nonsense about creation and intelligent design. “No, no, I am not a creationist. Well, yes, God did create everything . . .” “No, no, not intelligent design. All the designing occurred earlier.”

What it boils down to is that accomodationist Christians, who are in a state of low tension with the surrounding environment of unbelief, want to keep it that way. Low tension is the way to go, and you can still be in with the right crowd, you can still get invited to the right parties. This results in the constant efforts of accommodationist Christians to figure out ways of getting their unbelief to look like belief. The unbelievers outside can smell the aroma of a shared disbelief, and the believers inside can be fooled by the words — or, at any rate, not know how to respond to them. They know something is wrong, but are not quite sure how to take it apart.

And of course, the low tension johnnies are all about missional outreach — they say we have to lower barriers for unbelievers so that they are not “put off.” What they are really about is not being put off themselves. Because — when it comes to the growth of religious groups, and to speak as a sociologist would — high tension groups are the ones that grow.

So, to cut to the chase, God created the world, the heavens and the earth. He did it by the blam! method. First there wasn’t anything, and just a few days later, there were fruit trees all over the place. The fruit was just hanging there, like it had been ripening for months, and the tree growing for years, but it had actually been ripening for just a few minutes. A few days later, Adam and Eve, just like in the Sunday School coloring books, came walking through the Garden, hand in hand.

God did this thing. He had a design in it, and He is also intelligent. Put these things together — now follow me closely here — and the result can be called intelligent design. Since it was created, we can also say — unless we want to be intellectually respectable — that it was created.

Their Temples of Reason

It is usually no fun when people play the race card, but when evolutionists do it, the results can be highly entertaining, at least after a few million years.

My brother Gordon is Senior Fellow of Natural History at New St. Andrews. He was recently engaged to teach a one-off course in microbiology at the University of Idaho, which drew this protest, and then this one.

There is a kind of evolutionist who insists that his theory can only be falsified with rabbit fossils in the precambrian, and then rests easily in the full assurance that anything with a rabbit fossil in it can’t be precambrian by definition. This method works swell for them, and so they try to use a similar approach to journal articles, terminal degrees, and teaching slots. Creationists are clearly not equipped to be in the proximity of any of those things — for are they not all cornpones? — and so whenever they see a creationist they chase him out promptly, and then use his strange absence as an argument. His absence is an argument, and his presence is an outrage. What my net don’t catch ain’t fish, and if it does catch one on accident, we can always throw it back immediately and pretend it didn’t happen.

Seven Theses on the Age of the Earth

I recently came to the conclusion that it was time to set down in one place my reasons for approaching Genesis the way I do. I have noticed that the topic has become a matter of increased debate in classical Christian circles — and because schools cannot honestly stay out of it — it matters a great deal what we teach and why. So here are seven theses on the age of the earth.

1. First, the age of the earth, considered in isolation, is neither here nor there. The issue is always what God said, and not how old something is. If the earth is six thousand years old now, it will eventually be one hundred thousand years old at some point, about ninety-four thousand years from now. Will theologians at that time still be required to hold to a “young earth” view? So the issue is not age, or day, or young, or old, but rather the substance of what God actually said. Whatever He actually revealed should be what we use as the foundation for all our subsequent thought. After we have our foundation, we may incorporate truth from other sources — natural revelation included — but we must take care that we never privilege what we think we know over what God actually told us.

2. Therefore, the debate — which is most necessary — should be conducted primarily between Christians who accept the Scriptures as the absolute Word of God, perfect and infallible in all that they affirm. This is because debate is pointless between parties who are appealing to different authorities. The fact that the debate is now being conducted with many of the participants openly saying that the Bible “has mistakes in it” tells us why we are not really getting anywhere.

3. Once we have limited the participants in this way, we have simplified things considerably. Everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a flannel graph version of the Flood, giraffe and all, if that is what the Bible taught, and everyone in the debate would be willing to affirm a planet creaky with age, if that is what the Bible taught.

That said, the prima facie evidence for the traditional view of Genesis is very strong (historical Adam, continuous genealogies, etc.). Alternative approaches to the text, such as the framework hypothesis or the gap theory, seem like special pleading in order to make room to shoehorn in a cosmology from elsewhere. We should always smell a rat whenever someone notices an anomaly in the text (e.g. the different creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis) and someone else is immediately at your elbow with millions of years he wants to pour in.

I am not saying this because I am automatically categorizing any views contrary to my own as special pleading. One alternative view, grounded responsibly in the text, views the days in Genesis as days of revelation, which Adam was recording as God was teaching him how to write. But even this view would simply require someone to stop affirming “six-day creation,” and is not at all inconsistent with “young-earth creation.” So the prima facie evidence for the traditional view is strong enough for me to consider that the burden of proof lies with those who would question it.