"time began to gnaw, and those questions kept coming back up. Here are three of the most serious issues that emerge in trying to reconcile Darwinian evolution and an ancient earth with Christianity . . ."
Ten years ago, I had just been “converted” to belief in evolution. In one sense, of course, all of us believe in evolution - it simply means that life changes over time in predictable ways. What I came to believe in, however, was the Darwinian theory of evolution, namely, the idea that all forms of life on this planet share a single common ancestor and that the differences among these forms of life can be explained by random variation in an organism’s genome and higher rates of survival for those organisms that had acquired slight, beneficial variations.
When I came to believe in evolution, I was an evangelical Christian. I didn’t know the Bible or theology very well, but I did believe in Jesus. (I am now an Orthodox Christian, and have been for several years.) At first, I saw no conflict between evolution and Christianity. After all, couldn’t God have created the world through evolutionary processes? Couldn’t Genesis 1 be an allegory, not unlike the parables of Jesus?
Since I didn’t see conflict between Christianity and evolution, I came to believe that many people were turned off from Christianity because of the intellectual price of having to disagree with virtually the entire scientific community. Along with a natural desire to be right, this drove me to vigorously promote theistic evolution among my peers. Once everyone in my personal life was sick of hearing me talk about it, I started a YouTube channel (Kabane52) to promote evolution. Within a year, I had made over two hundred videos on the subject. It was my passion, as anyone who knew me at that time will remember.
Very soon however, I began to realize that evolution and Christianity were not as easily reconcilable as I thought. Not only that, I had found on the Internet all sorts of criticisms of Christianity. I had never considered the possibility that I might be wrong about the Christian faith. Maybe evolution was true and Christianity wasn’t. Maybe the atheists were right. Such an idea terrified me, but multiple times, I came very near to atheism. In God’s providence, I soon discovered various websites and books devoted to demonstrating the historical believability of the claims of Jesus and the apostles about the Lord’s death and resurrection. If the resurrection was true, then Christianity must be true. I devoured Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and read a great many Internet articles about the subject. I began to debate the atheists with whom I had once made common cause against creationists. Christian apologetics became my new passion- but my questions about how to reconcile evolution with Christianity remained.
And they remained for years. Even after I had lost interest in evolution entirely, I still believed the evidence for it and against a global flood was very strong. I believed (and still believe) that many popular creationist arguments against Darwinism were based on simple misunderstandings of the scientific data. So I stayed a theistic evolutionist. But time began to gnaw, and those questions kept coming back up. Here are three of the most serious issues that emerge in trying to reconcile Darwinian evolution and an ancient earth with Christianity.
First, there is the question of Scripture itself. Despite occasional claims to the contrary, the Church has always confessed the absolute inerrancy of the Bible, not only in doctrinal matters, but in historical details as well. St. Augustine, for example, says that if he finds what looks to be a contradiction, he assumes that he has either misunderstood the passage or that there has been an error in copying one manuscript from another. St. Maximus the Confessor, one of the most influential theologians of the Eastern Church, goes so far to say that the Bible expresses the truth of the eternal God as fully as text can express that truth. But the contemporary naturalistic account of origins doesn’t fit with what the Scriptures declare.
The most obvious conflict is between Genesis 1 and an ancient earth. Genesis 1 says that God created the world in six evenings and mornings. With one or two exceptions, all commentators before Darwin took this passage historically. I tried to fit this passage with evolution in various ways. At first, I held a “day-age” view of Genesis 1. According to this view, the days described in Genesis 1 are not twenty-four hour days, but extended periods of time, comprising millions or billions of years. At a superficial level, this seems plausible. After all, the Hebrew word yom does occasionally mean “age” rather than “day.” In Genesis 1, however, this is an impossible reading. Each day is marked by an evening and a morning which are distinguished by periods of darkness and light. Moreover, the order of events in Genesis 1 do not follow the conventional scientific account of the world’s origins. For example, according to conventional science, birds appeared on the scenes long after land animals, having evolved from dinosaurs. Furthermore, the sun is created on the fourth day, after plants have been created. Conventional scientists, of course, say the sun existed before the Earth formed.
Some day-age interpreters attempt to argue that the days are actually overlapping and that the “creation” of the sun on the fourth day simply refers to it becoming visible after the dissolution of a permanent cloud-cover over the Earth. Frankly, such interpretations are so obviously strained it’s a wonder anyone can live with the cognitive dissonance. There’s no indication that the days overlap, and that Israel’s work week is modeled on God’s proves definitively that they do not. It would also be impossible to understand what constituted an evening and what constituted a morning on this view. So I had to abandon this view and try to find another.
Days of Proclamation
The next view I took is a little known reading of Genesis 1 known as the “Days of Proclamation” intepretation. According to this view, God’s own declaration of His intent to create occurs in six days, but the actual events of the creation occurred an indefinite time later. That is, it is a misunderstanding of the literary structure of Genesis 1 to see the actual events as transpiring within a single week. While this at first appeared to resolve the issues with the day-age interpretation, it soon became apparent to me that this reading was fraught with even more problems. For one, it is clear in Exodus 20 that the actual events of the creation took place within the creation week. The Lord does not simply say that He “declared His intent to create” in six days before resting on the seventh. Instead, He states that He actually created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. Additionally, it makes no sense to speak of a week of seven twenty-four hour days before the formation of the Earth within the framework of conventional science. This is because the days are marked as twenty-four hours in virtue of the Earth’s rotation. On the Days of Proclamation view, there was no such Earth to mark the days on the first day of the week!
Days of Consecration
The next view I took was a relatively new viewpoint, developed by evangelical biblical scholar John Walton. Walton’s view is that ancient Near Eastern creation stories, including the story of Genesis, were not concerned so much with describing the material organization of the world. Instead, they were concerned with the ritual consecration of preexisting matter into a Temple. Walton notes that in various ancient cultures, festivals for the dedication of the temple took six days, so that the god would “rest” in the temple on the seventh day. He then reasons that this is likely what is being described in Genesis 1. Out of the three explanations I have just listed, Walton’s is clearly the most defensible. Yet I realized that even this view was massively problematic. First, Walton’s strict distinction between material and ritual organization cannot be defended. Solomon’s Temple was built in seven years, clearly drawing on this pattern of seven for the construction of a temple.
Second, Walton’s view makes meaning ancillary to the actual world. For Walton, God creates the matter out of which the world develops ex nihilo and then allows it to develop according to the patterns he designed at the beginning of creation. However, it is not until God consecrates the world that created things are imbued with meaning. On the fourth day, we are told that God made the heavenly lights in order to rule the day and the night and to mark festival times. This is why the Bible so frequently uses the symbols of heavenly lights to talk about political changes. Yet, this meaning is not artificial. God created the heavenly lights precisely to symbolize the rule of His Son over all things. Symbolism, then, is inherent in the world, not imposed onto it. This world is God’s world from top to bottom.
Third, and most problematically for Walton, the sequence of events in the speeches of Exodus 25-31 mitigate against his reading of Genesis 1. The tabernacle is a miniature world. Because of this, God dictates the instructions for the tabernacle in seven speeches, corresponding to the seven days of creation. Understanding these instructions can help us grasp the meaning of the creation days. We are told in Genesis 1 that God created the “heavens and the earth” on the first day. The heavens refer to God’s throne room above the firmament, the earth refers to the matter which God will organize in the six following days. If this interpretation is correct, then Walton must be wrong, because Genesis 1 describes the creation and organization of matter. In the first speech of the tabernacle instructions, all of the material for the building of the tabernacle is gathered together. In the six speeches which follow, this material is organized into a functioning sanctuary. Hence, Walton is incorrect. Genesis 1 refers to the creation of the material world.
Related to this idea is Meredith Kline’s “framework” view, that Genesis 1 is a literary framework designed to communicate the meaning of creation rather than to describe its history. In support of this contention, advocates of the framework view point to the literary correspondence of the first three days of creation with the second three. On the first day, God creates light, and on the fourth day, God creates heavenly lights. On the second day, separates the skies from the oceans, and on the fifth day, God creates birds for the skies and fish for the oceans. On the third day, God creates grain plants and fruit trees, and on the sixth day, God creates man who will transform these plants into the sacramental foods: Bread, Oil, and Wine. The argument here, however, is a non-sequitur. I fully agree with the literary pattern I have just described. But this doesn’t mean the text isn’t historical! As I mentioned above, God is the God who created the world to reveal His truth. The meaning of the six days is contained in the historical creation itself, and the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to reveal this meaning in a rich literary structure.
As an analogy, consider the story of the resurrection of Jesus in John 20. According to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene looked inside the Tomb and saw two angels sitting on either side of the tombstone, and when she saw Jesus, she thought he was the Gardener. John doesn’t just tell us these things to give us brute facts. He is making a theological point. The order of the narrative of John follows the order of the furniture of the tabernacle, beginning with the Bronze Altar and Jesus identified as the sacrificial “lamb of God” and climaxing here, with the two angels in the Tomb corresponding to the two cherubim who carried God’s throne in the Holy of Holies. We are being told that Jesus is the incarnate God who sat enthroned between two angels in the Temple. Likewise, we are told that Mary thought Jesus was the Gardener because Jesus is, in fact, the Gardener. He is the true and Last Adam, the one who restores the Garden of Eden and glorifies it into a City. But neither of these theological truths mean that the historical events didn’t occur! Mary really did think Jesus was a routine gardener, and there really were two angels inside the tomb. Because all history is God’s history, history itself contains theological meaning, and the biblical authors were inspired to reveal that meaning. This is why the Bible can teach us how to interpret the world and history.
The Global Flood
These exegetical problems are true across the biblical text. A person who holds to conventional science cannot believe that the Flood of Noah was global. Conventional geologists have supposedly refuted such an idea, and many Christian thinkers are trying to play catch-up. In order to reconcile conventional geology with the biblical text, I had to believe that the Flood was local. The justification for this view was in the translation of the Hebrew word erets. This word is translated “earth” in Genesis 6-9, but it can be translated as “land.” Hence, it seems rather easy to make Noah’s Flood local. In reality, however, it is impossible. Not only does the text say that “everything under the high heavens” was destroyed, its literary structure corresponds with Genesis 1, which no person doubts refers to the entire world. If one carefully studies the text, one will discover that Genesis 7 actually reverses the creation week step by step, and it ends with the ark “floating on the face of the waters” just as the Spirit “hovered over the face of the waters.” Genesis 8, then, follows the creation days forwards, starting with day one and ending with a Sabbath sacrifice offered by Noah. This literary structure reveals the meaning of the Flood story, but it also demonstrates decisively that the Flood must be global.
On top of this, the long ages lived by the patriarchs of old contradict conventional scientific views of humanity. According to Genesis 5, before the Flood, it was normal to live to nearly 1000 years old. In Genesis 11, those ages are cut in half, and then the Tower of Babel cuts these ages in half again. Since Peleg was named for the division of nations at Babel, we know that the sudden shift in ages after Peleg corresponds with the Tower. After this, the ages gradually decline to present rates. Some have tried to limit the “problem” to Genesis 1-11, arguing that there is a substantial difference in genre between Genesis 1-11 and the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. In reality, however, if one rejects that which contradicts conventional science, then one continues to have problems in the patriarchal narratives. Abraham lives to 205 years old, and Jacob lives to 147! It is only with Joseph that ages begin to approach their present rates.
The basic conclusion is that if one believes in the Bible, it is very difficult to agree with conventional science.
Theological Issues: Death
The problems, however, are not merely exegetical. They are theological. That is, they deal not just with the meanings of particular biblical texts, but with the structure of Christian theology itself. Christianity holds that God created a world which was free of death and sin. Because all life comes only from God, in order for the creation to be free of death, it must be united with God. Man is the Image of God. That is, he reflects the glory and life of God into the world and the praises of the world back to God. The world was made as an infant world, but it was not made as a corrupt world. Man was supposed to grow in communion and relation with God and bring the creation up with him. Instead, Adam turned away from God, thereby cutting off the communication of life to the world. Hence, everything began to die, including man himself.
It is clear that this poses a substantial challenge to the conventional account of Earth history. Evolution requires death to work. Certain individuals within populations must die selectively in order for beneficial genes to be passed on at higher rates. If there was no death for billions of years, nothing could have evolved at all. Furthermore, the fossil record is a record of dead things. If it was laid down before the creation of man, then death preceded the Fall. How does one explain death before the Fall if one believes in evolution and an ancient earth?
My first “solution” was simple: the death brought by Adam into the world was spiritual death, not bodily death. After all, salvation means for our soul to go to heaven rather than for our bodies to. I soon discovered, however, that this was a massive theological blunder. According to the Scriptures and the Christian faith, a human person is not just a soul. He is soul and body. This is why Jesus Christ was raised bodily from the dead. When He ascended into heaven, He did not somehow abandon His human nature! Instead, by joining divinity with humanity, He made it possible for our whole persons to share in the life of God, body and soul alike. Thus, St. Paul speaks of our hope as the “redemption of our body” which will come at the return of Christ. Jesus speaks of us sharing in the “resurrection of life.” We shall have glorious bodies like His glorious body.
Death, then, must refer to bodily death.
Just Human Death
The next solution was to try to argue that the death described in Genesis 2-3 and Romans 5 was simply death for humans. The first humans would be apes to whom God gave souls, and they were promised immortality unless they sinned. This ignores, however, the fact that Man is the Image of God. Because man is the Image of God, man reflects the life of God into the creation. The condition of man determines the condition of the world. This is why Paul says in Romans 8 that the “creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God.” If man could live forever even while the world dissolved, why would it be any guarantee for the world that man will be raised from the dead? Paul’s argument only makes sense if man communicates the life of God to the world. If this is the case, however, then the curse of death pronounced on man necessarily includes the creation for the first time. Nothing died before man sinned. Nothing suffered before man sinned. Psalm 8 tells us that man is the ruler of the cosmos. The hope of the cosmos is in man.
Historical Fall Outside Chronological Time
My final option was to argue that man, indeed, is responsible for all the death and suffering in the world, even before his own existence. In order to argue this, I suggested that Adam’s fall, in a sense, took place “outside of time.” When Christ returns, time will be transfigured into eternity, understood not as an endless sequence of moments, but understood instead as the instant reciprocation of all movements of love by one person to another. This is a technical theological point, but it has to do with the Trinity. God exists eternally, meaning not an infinite regress of sequential moments in the past, but that the Son returns the love of the Father as soon as the Father loves Him, and vice verse. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that God becomes “all in all” after the return of Christ. Everything becomes filled with Him, and this is the case with time itself. If this is the case, I reasoned, then it might be true that the Fall does not stand in sequential relationship with death, but instead, stands “above it.” Adam’s mode of existence was different than ours and thus did not stand in the same relation with time. Unfortunately, this argument collapsed on account of its retrojection of eschatological time into the beginning. According to the Scriptures and Christian theology, God created the world to gradually grow up into His own fullness. This would be the case even apart from the Fall, since Adam and Eve were created naked: as spiritual babies. Eventually, they would become robed in glory just as God is robed in glory.
If this is the case, then, I could not argue that Adam’s relation to time was the same as our own will be after the return of Christ. This would mean that the world was in fact created mature, and that our entrance into eternity is not only a feature of the world at its final stage. Since this is false, however, my account of Adam’s fall with respect to time must be incorrect.
Theological Issues: The Primacy of Paganism in Darwin’s World
One more set of theological problems emerged relatively late in my reflection on this issue. If one studies the cultures surrounding Israel, one will find that they share many things in common with the worldview of the Old Testament. For example, all cultures surrounding Israel had temples and covenants. The temples often displayed profound similarities to Israel’s Temple in the Old Testament, including three sections referred to as a Courtyard, a Holy Place, and a Holy of Holies. The covenants made between nations and their kings read very much like the covenant between Yahweh and Israel recorded in the book of Deuteronomy. The difference, of course, was that Israel was monotheistic while these pagan cultures were polytheistic and idolatrous.
The problem emerges as one considers how many conservative scholars interpret this pattern of similarities and differences. According to scholars like Wheaton professor James Hoffmeier, we need to see the Old Testament as a polemic against paganism. That is, God inspired the biblical authors to imitate the pagans in many things. The pagans were the first to offer sacrifices, the pagans were the first to build temples, the pagans were the first to make covenants. God is late to the party, as it were, and He imitates the forms of pagan culture. What this does, however, is render paganism to be the primary framework for human thought and religion. Paganism becomes primary, and the true pattern of religion and worship becomes secondary. This is a necessary way of viewing things if a person is a theistic evolutionist, because according to the conventional chronology of the ancient world, man began to build cities in 8000 BC, and Israel did not begin to exist until around 1700 BC with Abraham at the very earliest.
If one takes the Bible at its word, however, then the Tower of Babel occurred around 2000 BC, and Abraham was called only 200 years later. This necessarily means that historians of the ancient world have incorrectly reconstructed ancient chronology. That is, they do not understand which people and events and cultures were contemporaneous with each other. A biblical view of history solves the problem described above, because we recognize that Noah and his children knew the true God. There is much evidence that people outside Israel continued to worship the true God, which I describe below. The similarities between Israel and pagan cultures is not because paganism came first. Instead, on a biblical framework, pagan religions are corrupted forms of the true religion which had been given to Noah. Sacrifice began in Genesis 4, and Noah offered sacrifice. This is why people offer sacrifice not just in the Near East, but from ancient China to ancient America. Noah knew how to build a temple, and people across the world build temples with three parts: not just in Israel and its surrounding cultures, but as far away as Mesoamerica. Mesoamerican temples even display similarities with Egyptian and Near Eastern temples.
The only way, then, to vindicate the biblical view of human culture, where monotheism comes first and polytheism second, is to affirm a biblical and creationist view of history. As an evolutionist, I had no answer.
Thus, there was simply no solution at all to any of these problems. Theological problems were just as serious and insurmountable as exegetical problems. I was fully convinced of Christianity on other grounds, so I simply set the question aside, assuming that there was an answer I had not yet discovered yet. I knew, however, that I would have to deal with this eventually.
Miraculous Features of the Chronology of the Bible
What first gave me real pause about the truth of conventional scientific theories as to origins was studying the theological writings of James B. Jordan. Jordan is not well-known, but I truly believe he is one of the greatest biblical scholars in the history of the church. Jordan understands the necessity of paying attention to all of the details in Scripture. Paul tells us not only that all Scripture is inspired by God, but that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine. Hence, every detail has theological meaning. What surprised me was that Jordan was a young-earth creationist. Not only was he a creationist, but he affirms the importance of biblical chronology. The Bible, when it is carefully studied, actually gives us a complete chronology from the creation of the world to the coming of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, some Christians, even creationists, have stated that there was no intent to provide such a chronology, and that the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 might well have gaps. As Jordan pointed out, however, whether or not there are gaps in the generations, there are no gaps in the chronology, because the age of the father at the birth of his son is given. This makes it a chronological “lock.” But what struck me was how significant numbers theologically began to emerge when one took the chronology seriously. For example, exactly 3000 years after the creation of the world, the Temple of Solomon was constructed. Exactly 1000 years later, the Second Temple was destroyed in AD 70. The fall of the Second Temple marks the end of the Old Covenant which began when God created Adam. The Old Covenant, in both its Noahic and Mosaic forms, was regulated by animal sacrifice, a central sanctuary, and distinctions between clean and unclean. When the Second Temple fell, this entire order ended, and the significance of this event is described in the symbolism of the book of Revelation, which mostly concerns this period. What is amazing is that from the Creation to the fall of the Second Temple is precisely 4000 years, or 100 generations. How could this be coincidence? God gave us this chronology so that we can search out the meaning of history.
Memories of the Flood
Even so, this discovery was nothing compared to what I found next. According to the Scriptures, Genesis 1-11 describe the history which all humankind shares in common. If this is the case, one might expect all nations to have mythological traditions concerning this period of time. It had been my assumption that this was not the case. It is widely known, however, that Flood stories are one of the most pervasive features of mythological traditions. In a move of either ignorance or rank dishonesty, most contemporary biblical scholars explain the origin of the biblical flood story in terms of other flood stories circulating in the ancient Near East. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh describes a global flood similar in many respects to the flood described in the Bible. Utnapishtim builds a boat, the gods flood the world, he sents a raven out near the end of the flood, and he offers sacrifice after he emerges from the ark. Noting these similarities, many biblical scholars say that the story of Noah is derived from the story of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Floods Happen Everywhere?
If the Bible is telling a historical narrative, however, then one should expect other cultures to have memories of the global flood. There is a way to test which explanation is correct. If flood stories similar to the biblical story are distributed across the planet, then the best explanation is that the flood is a historical event. It is common knowledge that such stories are distributed across the planet, but the most common explanation is simply that “floods happen everywhere.” What I discovered when I began to read the stories themselves, however, is that this explanation is completely insufficient. If these many stories originated independently, then one should not expect detailed, particular similarities. But we find such similarities. For example, the Cree tribe of American Indians in Canada tell of a global flood, at the end of which the flood hero sent forth a raven and a wood pigeon, obviously similar to the story where Noah sends forth a raven and a dove. The Hawaiian tradition calls the flood hero “Nu'u” and describes how he offered a sacrifice to the gods after emerging from his ship, just as Noah did after emerging from the ark. The same is true of literally thousands of flood stories around the globe. The similarities are too specific and detailed to be the result of chance.
Recognizing this problem, some critics have attempted to explain the prevalence of flood stories around the globe by pointing to missionary influence. But this is clearly desperate. Some of the stories are far too paganized and corrupted to be the result of missionary influence, while still displaying similarities to the biblical story. One Mesoamerican flood story records that some persons offered a sacrifice to the gods which displeased them, leading the gods to turn some people into monkeys. This is plainly a corrupted form of the original biblical story, but it is too corrupt to have been the result of hearing the story from missionaries. Furthermore, are we really to believe that missionaries vigorously preached the story of the Flood across the globe, leading literally all cultures to tell stories of a global flood? This problem is intensified by the fact that we know such stories were circulating before missionaries, even outside the ancient Near East. For example, we have an Old World Indian flood story from 700 BC, displaying many particular similarities to the biblical account.
Other difficulties abound. For example, across the Southeast United States, Indian tribes tell flood stories which feature, not a bird, but an otter emerging from the boat near the end of the flood. The otter descends to the bottom of the sea and brings forth land. This is true across hundreds of miles in the America Southeast. It is close enough to the biblical story to require some sort of genetic relationship, but explaining this relationship by missionary influence is impossible. In order for missionary influence to explain it, independent missions to many different Indian tribes would need to generate local variations on the narrative of the flood. Each of these tribes would then need to corrupt the story in the exact same way. This defies all probability. Much simpler is the explanation that this particular “otter variant” of the flood story derives from a much earlier Native American account of the Flood which had changed the raven to an otter. As the tribes spread across the American Southeast, each carried this variant with them.
Memories of the Tower of Babel
I was simply stunned at the force of this evidence. I had never truly grasped the weight of the argument from flood stories before. But there was even more to discover. I found that this situation is true across the stories of Genesis 1-11. For example, the story of the Tower of Babel is remembered across the planet. Some Aboriginal Australian tribes, for example, tell of a story of a great tree which was blown over by a gust of wind, after which all nations were confused in languages and scattered across the planet. Native American tribes tell the same story, including the great gust of wind. Indeed, as one looks across the planet for stories of the origin of languages, one finds these two pervasive features: something tall, such as a tower or a tree, and something like a blast of wind. Interestingly, the blast of wind is not recorded in Scripture. Where, then, did it come from?
The Jewish historian Josephus independently transmits traditions about the biblical narrative not recorded in Scripture. He tells us that one night, God sent a miraculous gust of wind which destroyed the Tower of Babel. When people awoke, they found that they could no longer understand each other. We therefore discover that not only do people groups remember the story of the Tower of Babel, but that the traditions they remember included additional historical information about the Tower which is not given to us in Scripture. The same is true of the creation of man: one Native American tribe remembers that God made a woman from the dust of the ground, put her to sleep, and made a man from her side!
And the same is true of worship of the true God Himself. Winfried Corduan, in his book In the Beginning God: The Case for Original Monotheism critiques the prevailing view of the origins of religion. Most anthropologists argue without evidence that polytheism and animism precede monotheism. The evidence, however, indicates otherwise. When anthropologists study tribal cultures, they often find that despite the practice of animism, the cultures transmit secret and highly guarded traditions of a creator God who is the supreme lord of the world and who once communicated with these tribal people. Sadly, they remember that at one point he ceased communicating with them. Christian missionaries often find that tribes have a prophecy of a day when missionaries will come and restore knowledge of the true God.
But it’s not just true in tribal cultures. When we study the ancient world, we find that all ancient cultures originally worshiped the one true God. The original religion of ancient China focused on One God, whom they called Shang-Ti, the Emperor of Heaven. Shang-Ti was kind, loving, just, and merciful. This is significant, because pagan gods do not have these attributes. Pagan gods in many cultures are capricious and much more interested in themselves than they are in man. But this is almost never true for the high god in these cultures. When colonists arrived in the Americas, some of them found that Algonquin tribes worshiped a person whom they called the “Great Spirit.” The Great Spirit loved mankind, commanded men to love one another, ordained that one man and one woman marry for life, and had once send a flood to punish the world for its evil. Here is a story the Skokomish tribe of Washington state recites, as summarized by Mark Isaak, a critic of creationism:
The Great Spirit, angry with the wickedness of people and animals, decided to rid the earth of all but the good animals, one good man, and his family. At the Great Spirit’s direction, the man shot an arrow into a cloud, then another arrow into that arrow, and so on, making a rope of arrows from the cloud to the ground. The good animals and people climbed up. Bad animals and snakes started to climb up, but the man broke off the rope. Then the Great Spirit caused many days of rain, flooding up to the snow line of Takhoma (Mount Ranier). After all the bad people and animals were drowned, the Great Spirit stopped the rain, the waters slowly dropped, and the good people and animals climbed down. To this day there are no snakes on Takhoma.
Whenever we study tribal and cultural traditions, we find that their own cultural memories correspond with the history described in Genesis 1-11. Genesis really does tell the true history of mankind, even though modern man has forgotten it.
Bad Creationist Arguments
Still, this left me with one issue, the most difficult of them all: namely, the scientific evidence. Contrary to the beliefs of some creationists, the case for evolution and an ancient earth is not stupid or worthless. There are arguments for both that deserve to be taken seriously. Even though I am a creationist today, I am still a critic of most creationist arguments, for the simple reason that most creationist arguments are bad. It is very important for our credibility as Christians that we be careful in which arguments we use and which arguments we do not use. Consider one argument, that evolution contradicts the second law of thermodynamics, because the second law of dynamics states that “everything tends towards disorder.” This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, “disorder” is not being used in its colloquial sense, but in a technical sense which means that there are differences in temperature which are exploited in order to accomplish motion, what physicists call “work.” Second, the law does not state that everything tends towards disorder at the same rate. Instead, given that the universe as a whole is a closed system (something which I do not accept), the order in the whole system will decrease. However, the distribution of energy in the universe changes constantly, so that there can be localized increases in order.
Likewise, the concept that the entire fossil record was laid down by the Flood of Noah is untenable. This does not explain the particular order of fossils that we discover in the ground, especially for what paleontologists call Cenozoic, or Tertiary rocks. Paleontologists divide the Earth’s history into three periods, corresponding to three different layers of rock. There are Paleozoic, or Primary rocks. These contain fossils from the Precambrian and before. Above this, there are Mesozoic rocks, containing fossils from the Cambrian to the end of the Cretaceous, when the dinosaurs are understood to have gone extinct. Finally, there are Cenozoic, or Tertiary rocks, where we find mammals, most birds, and ourselves. The difficulty with the older creationist view that all of these rocks were laid down by the Flood is that we only find humans at the top of the rock layers, and we find remnants of human civilization, which would be completely wiped out by a global Flood. Why do we only find humans at the top?
There are two issues which ought to be distinguished. First, there is the issue of evolution by means of mutation and natural selection. In contemporary science, there is a small movement of scientists following the “intelligent design” movement. These scientists do not necessarily reject common descent, but do believe that life exhibits features of design. I found that, despite widespread criticism from mainstream scientists, many of these proponents of design make an excellent case. Michael Behe argues that much cellular life exhibits evidence of “irreducible complexity.” That is, such life is composed of a great multitude of parts, but if you remove even one of those parts, the entire system ceases to function. Since natural selection operates by small, slight modifications, it is difficult to explain how such systems could have evolved directly.
Evolutionary scientists such as Ken Miller have noted that ostensibly irreducibly complex systems such as the flagellum do have precursors, but those precursors did not operate as a flagellum. Miller cites the Type 3 Secretory System, which uses only ten parts of a forty-part flagellum. While it does not operate as a flagellum, it does function as a mechanism for injecting poison into other cells. Behe has responded in two ways. First, the evidence indicates that the Type III secretory system actually descends from the flagellum and not the other way around. Second, it is nigh impossible to explain how a system could move forward by natural selection if it changes function each time it acquires a new part. If selective pressure is refining a particular system, it is refining it with respect to a particular function. Miller’s argument, while sounding persuasive on the surface, has little depth. I found that in actual debates with proponents of intelligent design, evolutionary scientists did not have as clear as an edge that they claimed in the public square.
The Age of the Earth
This still left the most significant scientific issue: the age of the earth. Sadly, many arguments for a young earth simply do not stand up to scrutiny, and are made with people with little to no familiarity with the scientific literature or the scientific evidence. We Christians need to have a better standard than this. We have no reason to fear. All truth is God’s truth. If we are rigorously committed to the truth, then we will find far better arguments than if we are not.
The New Creationism
What I discovered, however, was that there is a modern movement of a different kind of creationist scientist. These scientists are interested in doing science because they want to study God’s world in the light of what God has spoken in Scripture. Instead of being motivated by a desire to “refute evolution”, they were committed to formulating a coherent model which could describe the world in creationist terms, leading to productive insights. Furthermore, these scientists were critical of older creationist work which took a disrespectful, polemical tone against those who disagreed. Included in this group are scientists like Kurt Wise, Leonard Brand, and Todd Wood.
The Floating Forest
Kurt Wise, educated in paleontology at Harvard University, is one of the most creative thinkers in the modern creationist movement. He noted that the sequence of plants in the fossil record was exactly what evolution would predict. Plants began at their shortest and least complex and gradually became taller and more complex. He noted, however, that the order of plant fossils also described an order of plants which lived in the sea to plants that lived in the land. Asking whether any such ecological order was present in the modern world, he realized that this order is exactly what one finds in “quaking bogs.” A quaking bog is a small, floating mat of plants which becomes thicker as one moves towards the center. In the center, one finds trees which actually grow on this mat and whose roots extend into the water. The roots, therefore, are not deep, but extend below the mat and expand outwards. What Kurt Wise discovered is that the order of plants in the fossil record reveals that before the Flood, there was a massive quaking bog the size of a continent, which Wise calls the “floating forest.” Indeed, the trees that one finds in the fossil record are actually hollow, which made them lighter and more able to float on this large mat. While hollow trees are extinct today, other sorts of hollow plants have survived in quaking bogs. Furthermore, the well-known “fish-with-legs” fossils are found in this context. These appear to be, not evolutionary transitions, but animals which lived on the floating forest and were therefore capable of walking around on the plant mat and swimming below its surface.
Scientists associated with the RATE project have also made substantial progress in understanding why radiometric dating methods tend to give old ages. Radiometric dating works by measuring the relative amounts of certain chemicals in rocks. “Radiometric decay” is when one chemical gradually turns into another chemical over time. This occurs at a constant rate, so, if one sees the relative amounts of the chemical in a rock, one should hypothetically be able to find when the rock formed. However, whenever radiometric decay occurs, helium is released into the rock. Helium is a leaky chemical, meaning that it escapes the rock relatively quickly. A certain amount of radiometric decay will always generate a certain amount of helium. Hence, if all of this radiometric decay occurred millions of years ago, it should nearly all be gone. If it happened at a different rate a few thousand years ago, there should be a predictable amount of helium left in the rocks. What the scientists working on the RATE project did is to take these rocks and predict precisely how much helium should be left in them, given the creationist model. They published the predictions before receiving the results of the experiments, and then they sent the rocks to secular labs so that secular scientists could do the experiments. The creationist prediction was confirmed with flying colors.
The same is true with respect to the decay of our magnetic field. Our magnetic field is decaying at a particular rate. Given the present rate of decay, the magnetic field would be prohibitively strong just 20,000 years ago. In order to deal with this conundrum, secular scientists have developed a “dynamo” theory of the magnetic field which allows for its strength to increase and decrease over time. Reversals of the polarities of the magnetic field, in this model, can only occur over a period of about a thousand years. Russell Humphreys, a creationist physicist, developed an alternative model for the magnetic field, based on a young age for the earth. According to Humphreys, the magnetic field is generated by the circulation of electrons in the mantle of the earth. Humphreys’ model allows for reversals of the field to occur in as little time as two weeks. When he developed the model in the 1980s, he predicted that short-term reversals of the field would be observed. Only a few years later, his predictions were confirmed. Additionally, NASA published predictions about the rates of planetary magnetic fields given the dynamo model, which would then be measured by the Cassini-Huygens spaceprobe. Russell Humphreys published predictions based on his own model shortly afterwards. When the measurements were made, NASA’s predictions were falsified and Humphreys’ were confirmed.
New Models for Flood Geology
I further discovered that problems with older creationist models were not true of newer creationist models. Take the issue of the entire fossil record being laid down by the Flood. Contemporary creationists no longer believe this. Instead, they argue that the Paleozoic layers were laid down before the Flood, largely on the third day of creation, that the Mesozoic layers were layed down in the Flood, and that the Cenozoic layers were laid down as the Earth rocked back from the geological upheaval of the Flood. This is evidenced by the fact that many of the so-called transitional fossils are found in the Cenozoic. There is actually a good series of horse transitional fossils. However, creationist biologist Todd Wood has developed a model for extremely rapid diversification of animal and plant life after the Flood. According to Wood, God created all “kinds” (called a baramin in creationist literature) with natural potentialities for diversification. There are various “switches” in the animal which turn on and off certain features. God made life so that it could develop and change, but the mechanism of this change is not primarily mutation and natural selection. Wood’s argument accounts for much of what we see in the late fossil record, and this newer model of the Flood solves many of the older problems with Flood geology.
None of this is to say that creationist scientists have solved all of the problems with young-earth models. Not by a long shot. But it is to say that the amount of progress made by traditional Christian scientists, given their small number and relative lack of funding, is impressive, and is very promising as to the ultimate profitability of a scientific model faithful to Scripture.
The paradigm shift that I have experienced has been profound. While I most certainly believed in Jesus while I accepted evolution, accepting evolution prevented the full realization of a thoroughly Christian worldview. A fully Christian worldview accounts for beauty, and asserts that the reason for the form of plants and animals is not simply survival value, but its aesthetic value. A fully Christian worldview does not make paganism primary. It asserts that human history begins with true worship of the true God, and it begins again with the renewal of that worship under the Second-Father, Noah. Coming to accept creationism has led to a profound reconfiguration of my worldview, and happily, it has led to the dissolution of virtually all doubt about the truth of Christianity. The sun really shines, the birds really sing, God really loves me and Jesus truly rose to renew all things.
How glorious are thy works O Lord. In Wisdom hast thou made them all.
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