According to people in the creation-science movement, there are scientists today making strong statements that deny the Bible and the Christian faith. I would agree with them; it is a serious problem. I do not think, however, that creation scientists have made the best diagnosis of the problem, and their remedy just may cause more harm than good.
One argument creation scientists use is that the sciences totally exclude any reference to God and so they appear to be atheistic. They conclude that the ground rules and image of science must be changed drastically in order for “true” science to emerge.
But I look at the question differently. It is when scientists make religious pronouncements (such as denying the existence of God), basing their reasoning on their science, that the real problems arise. So rather than try to make science more religious, our job as Christians is to help keep it more honest. To put it bluntly, we must decide whether the major difficulty lies in evolution or in evolutionism. It is a distinction eloquently made by C. S. Lewis in his essay on “The Funeral of a Great Myth”:
“The central idea of the Myth is what its believers would call ‘Evolution’ or ‘Development’ or ‘Emergence.’ … I do not mean that the doctrine of Evolution as held by practising biologists is a Myth. It may be shown, by later biologists, to be a less satisfactory hypothesis than was hoped fifty years ago. But that does not amount to being a Myth. It is a genuine scientific hypothesis. But we must sharply distinguish between Evolution as a biological theorem and popular Evolutionism which is certainly a myth.”
This distinction must be made, and it is the the single most important issue in the current controversy. As long as evolution is treated as science—open to investigation and leading to testable hypotheses—I have no quarrel. (To be sure, there are unresolved questions, but in science we never run out of questions.) But when evolution is used as the basis for a comprehensive world view that denies the existence of God as Creator, then the discussion has been changed from science to religion. This kind of belief could be considered a sophisticated form of nature worship. An important aspect of nature has become elevated to an organizing principle, and not only for science, but for all of life’s questions.
The Meanings Of Evolution
The words “evolution” and “creation” have different meanings to different people and in various situations.
1. Evolution as special theory (microevolution). This evolution includes the view that many animals and plants have undergone changes over time, and new species have been formed. The relevant facts are partly derived from direct experimental test and are partly historical. Much discussion about evolution in biology textbooks is at this level.
2. Evolution as general theory (macroevolution). This evolution assumes that the development of new classes of organisms such as reptiles and mammals involved the same processes as the formation of new species. As the theory of evolution becomes more comprehensive and involves the more distant past, however, the theory becomes further removed from the basic data and thus less subject to direct test. Simplifying assumptions must be introduced to handle the extremely large volume of data; the issues are still testable in principle, and thus scientific.
3. Evolutionism as religion. Carl Sagan has attempted to construct an entire world view on the basis of evolutionary theory. When he says, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” he is stating his personal belief rather than a logical and necessary conclusion from scientific investigation. The same is true of E. O. Wilson’s claim in his book, On Human Nature, that “the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competitor, as a wholly material phenomenon.”
A more appropriate statement is seen in a recent letter by W. H. Hildemann to Science magazine: “The integrity of science is not compromised by stating that the ultimate origins of matter and life are unknown and open to conjecture. Indeed, evolutionary scientists, among whom I count myself, could well take greater care in separating facts from conjecture.”
The Meanings Of Creation
1.Special creation. This view of creation states that a number of “kinds” were brought into being by God and that further limited changes over time have taken place only within these boundaries.
Some who hold this view accept what I have described above as a special theory of evolution but call it variation. Special creation can fit either a short or a long time span.
2. Creation as general doctrine. For many people, creation is an important theological doctrine. Humankind and all things that exist are dependent upon God, who is Creator and Sustainer. The created order is good, and purpose can be seen in God’s providence. Humans stand in a special relationship to God in their capability to respond to him.
These views are not dependent upon the presence or absence of scientific explanations. Neither a short nor a long time scale is an essential element.
3. Scientific creationism (or creation science). This view has been defended by Dr. Gish, and though we share many common concerns, some significant aspects of that approach are disturbing to me.
The Second Law Of Thermodynamics
I cannot understand why creationist writers continually misinterpret the second law of thermodynamics as prohibiting evolution. That law has a rigorous mathematical definition that restricts its application. Note the following points:
1. The second law applies only to closed systems that are carefully defined. A general decrease in the availability of energy in the universe as a whole does not prevent localized increase.
2. If an apparent exception to a scientific “law” is noted, there are several options to be explored. The situation may be one to which the law does not apply, or the law may not be sufficiently general and should be modified. Therefore, apparent exceptions to laws are not illegal or prohibited; they are problems to be considered and resolved. Thus the case for or against evolution at any level must be made on other grounds.
3. The second law of thermodynamics is extended by creationists to cover the question of how life could arise without prior information. That is a very interesting problem, and one not easily resolved. But it cannot be settled by reference to thermodynamic concepts.
Is Darwinism Dead?
Recent articles have given the impression that evolutionary theory is in total disarray and that many prominent scientists have reversed their earlier acceptance of evolution. The facts in the case are quite different.
Was Darwin wrong? Yes, in many ways. He accepted pangenesis, the view that elements from body cells migrate to the gonads and can be transmitted to offspring. He accepted Larmarck’s concept that external environmental influences also can be transmitted. He accepted blending inheritance—the idea that transmissible factors from parents blend and are permanently altered en route to the next generation.
Yet that is just what should happen to scientific theories: they are altered continuously by new discoveries. Many thought Darwinism would disappear when Mendel’s work was rediscovered; however, the basic concept of natural selection was enriched, not abolished. Similarly, new evidence about the nature of genetic mutations and the effects of population size and population structure have been incorporated.
The current argument involves the question of whether all evolutionary changes are small and gradual, or whether episodes of more rapid change may have occurred. The answer already appears clear, namely that change may be slow at some times and rapid at others.
Is the “survival of the fittest” a tautology? Yes, but natural selection is not, and that is the major theme of evolutionary theory. The point is that different reproduction (some organisms surviving and reproducing better than others) can produce changes in gene frequencies. Natural selection has been demonstrated so often in experimental tests that it should be considered firmly established.
The “Young Earth” Model
Belief in the recent origin of the universe is not a majority view among Christians, even among those who accept the Bible as divinely inspired. A careful review of the way in which the doctrine of creation is interpreted within the Bible as a whole shows that the emphasis is primarily upon the meaning of existence and is only slightly about time. Thus the term “creation model” arbitrarily fixes upon one of several interpretations. As a result, people who reject recent origin may reject any other view of creation without understanding the distinctions.
The scientific arguments advanced for a young earth fall in one of three areas:
1. The arguments fail to take other data into account.
2. They misrepresent the scientific methodology used for estimating age.
3. They assume that any disagreement at the cutting edge of scientific investigation totally invalidates all other approaches to a given question.
It is a serious theological mistake to think creation can be discussed adequately in a science classroom without reference to religious sources. The attempt to make creation strictly scientific appears to reflect the belief that questions about the meaning and purpose of human existence are best resolved within a scientific context—another dubious assumption.
For these reasons, laws mandating teaching of the “creation model” will cause serious dilemmas for many teachers who really do believe in creation. Furthermore, whenever the two models are thoroughly compared, some students inevitably will feel that criticisms of the creation model are antireligious in nature. These problems would be reduced if in public and classroom discussions the more descriptive term “young earth model” were used.
It is when we approach the question of human origins that these problems become most acute. Ideas about human ancestry affect our views of human nature in general. Within the last decade a number of research developments have expanded our understanding. New hominoid fossils have been discovered, leading to the revision of former ideas about relationships, with growing consensus on some questions but sharpened dispute on others. Extensive field studies of primates in their natural environments have shown individual and social behavioral patterns to be more complex than previously thought. The neurosciences have identified a number of neurotransmitter substances in the brain and have used them to trace pathways.
Earlier studies compared enzymes and other proteins in various species to estimate the degree of similarity; more recent developments in recombinant DNA methods have extended such comparisons to the level of the genes. A colleague at my university has compared the chromosomes of several species, using methods that can show 1,000 bands in the chromosomes from a single cell. The results indicate that the total amount of generic material is essentially alike for the human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan. Even the detailed banding pattern along the chromosomes is sufficiently similar that it is possible to construct a hypothetical common ancestor.
Within the framework of belief in God as Creator, there are two major ways to interpret these observations. Each has its own set of questions:
1. The human form was brought into being by God as a separate creative act. But why did God use a plan so similar to that of the other primates? Are certain gene combinations essential for the developmental patterns involved?
2. God used some preexisting animal form when he made humans in his image. But how could a reshuffling of the generic material result in the uniqueness of the human species that all recognize? What kind of intervention is implied in the transition?
I cannot think of any kind of scientific methodology that would provide a conclusive independent test to distinguish between these options. It is possible that we may never be able to determine when humans in the biblical sense first appeared. But we do not have to leave the question there. By whatever mechanism the human body may have been produced, we are still confronted with the need to understand the biological components of human nature. The approach to these two options is surprisingly alike, although neither choice permits an easy way out of hard questions.
Fortunately, there are important guidelines from the sciences and the Bible alike that can be followed. They are presented briefly in the hope they will be of practical help in resolving personal and professional questions.
Human Nature And The Sciences
1. Humans have their own nature and not that of another species. Studies of individual and social behavior in other species may suggest questions to study in the human, but do not provide direct explanations of human nature. My own professional field of human behavior genetics plays an important role in this area.
2. Human behavior, taken as a whole, is unique. There are indications of tool making, tool using, communications, and other complex behaviors in other species, but the degree of development and overall combination found in humans are not paralleled elsewhere.
3. Evolution is at best the description of a process, not a self-sufficient cause. It is not correct to state that evolution caused human beings to be formed.
4. Evolutionary ethics is wrong. Insights from human generics and evolutionary biology may contribute to our understanding of human nature, but they cannot serve as the basis for moral judgments.
5. Humans occupy a significant place in the universe. (It is meaningless to consider scenarios for other possible universes that do not include humans, since in fact we do exist.) This type of argument, which restricts attention to those options that include human existence, is one form of the “anthropic principle.”
6. The human body has inestimable value. Claims that the chemicals in the human body are worth only a dollar (more with inflation) would merely be the body reduced to ash. The many complex chemicals organized into cells and tissues could not be purchased at any price.
7. That humans have characteristics similar to other species should make us grateful. These species provide experimental animals with which to study human problems and testing vehicles for toxic materials that might produce cancer or mutations.
Human Nature And The Bible
1. human existence was planned by God and resulted from a deliberate creative act. We are not the unplanned result of natural, self-sufficient causes.
2. All creatures are God’s handiwork, but humans are in a unique relationship with him. With this in mind, I concluded an article on human engineering with this comment: “Deliberate modification of human biological nature might even be accepted, but only if it will enhance our capacity to behave responsibly toward God and our fellows and thus honor his purpose in bringing us into being.”
3. Humans were created in God’s image. The resulting human nature made the Incarnation possible.
4. God’s charge to Adam included the basis for science (to study, classify, and name) and for technology (to subdue). But both of these were to be carried out in the spirit of being answerable to God.
None of these understandings could be derived from, or tested by, scientific methodologies. They are important conclusions from the doctrine of creation, but would not be part of a “creation model” for classrooms.
Guidelines For Witness
The Christian faith will be in tension with any culture, so we must choose wisely the discussion approach that will be most effective. Here are some guidelines for consideration.
1. We need to insist on making the distinction between scientific methods on the one hand, and scientism and evolutionism on the other.
2. Science teachers need an appreciation of religious thought in order to deal fairly with the issues and avoid drifting into evolutionism.
3. We should identify and emphasize areas of agreement among evangelicals rather than points on which even strict creationists are divided: a young earth, a universal flood, the fixity of species, and the advisability of laws to teach creation.
4. The case for creation must be greater than arguments against evolution.
5. Creation cannot be discussed adequately without reference to the Bible.
6. Finally, the biblical view of God as Creator and Sustainer is important for questions of meaning, purpose, and our view of human nature.
V. Elving Anderson is professor of genetics and acting director of the Dight Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He is president of Sigma Xi, the scientific research society, and an editor of Genetic Basis of the Epilepsies (Raven, 1982).
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