SERIES: GENESIS – PART 5
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, he received more abuse than perhaps any modern scientist. To be sure, even Einstein originally objected to Slipher’s discovery of an expanding universe. He wrote, “This circumstance irritates me” (Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 28). Others also objected. But none of these heaped personal abuse on Slipher. Darwin, by contrast, was greeted with: “Rotten fabric of speculation. … Utterly false. … Deep in the mire of folly [and] … I laughed till my sides were sore” (Jastrow, Until the Sun Dies, 19). The remarkable thing, however, is that the theory that became the laughing stock and then eventually the battleground of the second half of the nineteenth century has now become widely accepted, not only by scientists but also by a wide variety of people from most walks of life.
This is not to say that evolution is the only theory going. It is merely the dominant view today and is therefore the one with which any discussion of the theory of origins should start. Actually, our discussion in this and the following sermons is going to take us over five competing theories: 1) atheistic evolution, 2) theistic evolution, 3) the so-called “gap theory” popularized by C. I. Scofield, 4) six-day creationism, and finally 5) progressive creationism. We are going to see what each of these theories has to commend it and then also explore its weaknesses.
Let us say at the beginning that a final answer as to how the universe came into being may not be attainable now. We may exclude some possibilities, both as Christians and as scientists. As Christians we may exclude even more. But this still falls short of a full answer to the “how.” Indeed, even taking the explanations of origins in the order proposed above does not necessarily imply that the latter positions are better than the earlier ones. They are taken in this order simply because they have appeared in this order historically.
The Evolutionary Theory
We begin by noting that in spite of the association of evolution with the name of Charles Darwin, evolution itself is nothing new. It existed among the ancient Greeks, for example. Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Epicurus, and Lucretius were all evolutionists. So also was Aristotle (384–322 b.c.), who believed in a complete gradation in nature accompanied by a perfecting principle. This was imagined to have caused gradation from the imperfect to the perfect. Man, of course, stood at the highest point of the ascent.
Again, there were evolutionists in more modern times before Darwin. Some early precursors were Francis Bacon (1561–1626), René Descartes (1596–1650), and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). The first biologist to make a contribution to evolutionary thought was George Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788), the French naturalist. Another was Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), the grandfather of Charles Darwin. The first fairly complete theory of evolution was by Chevalier de Lamarck (1744–1829), who became a professor in zoology at the Museum of Natural History in Paris and later popularized his views in Philosophie Zoologique.
It was Charles Darwin, however, who rightly captured the world’s attention. His theory was developed to a degree that none of the others were and, perhaps even more importantly, it was supported by an impressive array of observations collected initially on the world-encircling tour of the HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. Darwin’s theory may be arranged in these postulates and conclusions.
Postulate number one: variation. There are variations within individuals of the same species.
Postulate number two: overproduction. In most cases, more individuals are born to a species than can possibly survive to maturity.
Conclusion number one: struggle for existence. In order to survive individuals must compete with other members of the same species.
Postulate number three: survival of the fittest. In a competitive environment only those individuals best fitted to survive will survive.
Postulate number four: inheritance of favorable characteristics. Fit individuals pass their “good” characteristics to their descendants.
Final conclusion: New species arise by the continued survival and reproduction of the individuals best suited to their particular environment (This summary of Darwin’s theory is taken from John W. Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution. St. Louis, Concordia, 1970, 34-35).
What has happened to this theory in the one hundred or so years since the publication of Darwin’s Origin? For the most part it is still held, though much work has been done in the one area that presents a flaw in the argument. As anyone can see, the chief mechanism of evolution according to Darwin’s theory is “natural selection,” the impersonal preference given to a certain variation in a species permitting one individual rather than another to survive. This is supposed to explain how the variety of forms we know came about. But this is precisely what it does not do. Natural selection may explain how certain individuals have more offspring than others and therefore survive, or survive and have offspring while other less favored individuals do not. But it does not tell us how there came to be the various organisms or “good” characteristics of organisms in the first place.
Thomas Bethell, editor of the Washington Monthly, has written of this problem in an article for Harper’s Magazine. He observes, “There is, then, no ‘selection’ by nature at all. Nor does nature ‘act’ as it so often is said to do in biology books. One organism may indeed be ‘fitter’ than another from an evolutionary point of view, but the only event that determines this fitness is death (or infertility). This, of course, is not something which helps create the organism, but is something that terminates it” (Harper’s Magazine, February 1976, 70-75).
To deal with this problem evolutionists have come to speak of mutations as the primary source of variations. This was proposed first by a Dutch botanist, Hugo de Vries, in a work entitled Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation (1905). It has since been suggested that mutations are caused by cosmic radiations, the latter being perhaps far more intense than in modern times.
The Fossil Record
What are we to say of Darwin’s theory? We must begin by noting that there is no question on the part of any informed thinker or writer that there are varieties within a given species. This is simply to say that all individuals are not alike. Some are tall, some short. Some are strong, others weak, and so on. The question is whether these acknowledged variations are sufficient to account for the development of entirely different species and, second, whether such development has in fact occurred. (The possibility of the development of species in this manner does not prove that this is the way it happened.)
At this point we have to turn to the evidence for evolution, and when we do we must acknowledge that the only true historical evidence is the evidence of fossils. There are other things that might be seen as supporting evolution: the possibility of classifying organisms from the simple to the more complex, similarities of structure in “related” species, the existence of vestigial organs (that is, organs like the human appendix for which no present function is known), similar blood types between some species. But these are all circumstantial arguments, and in some cases they are also ambiguous (See Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution, 120-73). The only truly historical evidence—evidence that evolution has actually occurred—is fossils.
The fossil remains may be evidence of evolution, but what is not adequately said today is that they do not prove evolution and are in fact highly questionable when applied to evolutionary theory. Let us begin with positive statements. First, although very fragmentary, the fossils do lend themselves to a historical sequence in which the more simple forms of life may be dated earlier (because found in older rock) and more complex forms of life may be dated later. Thus, although the very ancient dates given may be wrong, it does seem that algae, protozoa, and sponges came first. After that are fish, reptiles, and amphibians, then the land animals, including the dinosaurs. Finally, there are the animals we know today, and then man. Another positive statement is that some species have become extinct, the dinosaurs being the most notable example. The combination of these two sets of observations suggests that new forms of life develop and that others become extinct—according to Darwin.
But it is not that simple. There are problems in fitting the fossil record into an evolutionary system. Moreover, these are so great as to bring the entire theory into question.
For example, if evolution is true, what we should expect to find in the fossil record is finely graded and generally continuous development from the simplest forms to the higher forms. Although this is often claimed for the fossil record, it is not what is in fact found when we study it closely. Certainly there are simpler forms in (presumably) earlier rocks. Higher forms (like man) come relatively late. But there are no gradual developments. On the contrary, the major groups appear suddenly, and there is little or no evidence of transition. Everett C. Olson, a well-known evolutionist, mentions this difficulty: “More important, however, are the data revealed by the fossil record. There are great spatial and temporal gaps, sudden appearances of new major groups, equally sudden appearances of old, including very rapid extinctions of groups that had flourished for long periods of time. There were mass extinctions marked by equally simultaneous death of several apparently little associated groups of organisms. At the time the record first is seen with any real clarity [in Cambrian rock strata], the differentiation of phyla is virtually complete. As far as major groups are concerned, we see little clear evidence of time succession in differentiation with the simpler first and the more complex later” (Everett C. Olson, “The Role of Paleontology in the Formation of Evolutionary Thought,” Bioscience 16, 1966: 39. Quoted by L. Duane Thuman, How to Think about Evolution & Other Bible-Science Controversies (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978, 103. Thuman discusses the problems raised by the fossil record at some length, as do also J. Kerby Anderson and Harold G. Coffin, Fossils in Focus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
It may be argued at this point—indeed, it is argued by evolutionists—that the fossil record is simply incomplete, that if fossils for every prior form of life existed, such gaps would be filled. But in a hundred years of study the tendency has not been this way, and it is hard to convince oneself today that this will yet happen. It is not just a question of several missing links. There are hundreds of missing links. Moreover, the grouping of major species in certain past periods of earth’s history works strongly against this argument. Christians can argue, even if they cannot fully prove, that special creation is a far better explanation.
A second major problem with the use of fossils to support evolution is the subjective nature of arranging fossil histories. It might be argued by one who has seen the difficulty just mentioned that there is nevertheless evidence for development within one of the ancient time periods, even if not from one to the other. The supposed development of the horse from the Eocene period to modern times is an oft-cited example. During 60 million or so years the horse is supposed to have increased in size, lengthened its limbs, reduced and then eventually discarded toes, and become a grazer. Many museums have skeletons or pictures that are supposed to represent this development. But the fossils do not prove this development. They may suggest it, and the development they suggest may in fact be right. But there is still no evidence that one supposed form of the horse gave place to another. In actuality the skeletons may have come from similar but otherwise unrelated animals. Moreover, even if the fossils of these horselike animals prove a development, it is still not an example of the development of new species but only of a change within a species.
Another area of difficulty for evolution is the mechanism used to explain the emergence of significant variations in the species, chiefly mutations (sudden unexpected changes brought about by otherwise unexplained alterations in the organism’s genes). This was the solution to the problem of “newness” proposed by Hugo de Vries. De Vries did his work with the evening primrose, a weed that he found in a potato field. He bred this plant over a period of several generations in the course of which he noticed a number of abrupt changes that he called mutations. He concluded that these were developments of such magnitude that the process itself could explain the emergence of new species.
Unfortunately, the new “species” of de Vries were not new species but simply varieties within the same species. Moreover, they were not produced by mutations in the sense of that word today but rather by breeding out recessive characteristics. In other words, de Vries produced nothing that was not in the plant originally.
De Vries’s failure does not entirely discredit the theory, however, for mutations do occur and can be passed down from generation to generation. The question is whether these mutations are sufficient to account for new species. Are they? Many evolutionists would say yes at this point. But it is important to note that no one has as yet demonstrated this to be so. In fact, there is important evidence to the contrary. Walter Lammerts is a rose breeder from southern California and the author of the books Why Not Creation? and Scientific Studies in Creation. He tells of attempts to breed roses with more petals or less petals, using every imaginable technique including radiation. He acknowledges that it is possible to use radiation to create roses with a significant increase in petals. But here is the point: there is a limit beyond which the increase in petals apparently will not go. If a rose has forty-four petals, for example, it may be reduced to thirty-two or increased to fifty-six. But that is all. Moreover, if the hybrid rose is left to mix with others from that point on, it does not retain its new characteristics but soon loses them. In fact, all the hybrid roses we have would soon turn to wild roses if left to them-selves—because they are bred from the wild roses originally. And if that in itself is not enough to cast doubt on the theory, there is the fact that the “improved” roses did not attain their improved form naturally but rather through the concentrated and prolonged efforts of Lammerts and other breeders. In other words, even in so limited a matter as this there is need for a design and a designer, a planner and a plan (For a fuller discussion of mutations as a possible mechanism for evolution see Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution, 256–91).
The Crucial Areas
An essay such as this can only begin to suggest a few of the problems the theory of evolution poses. But even in such a short study, concentrating on the basic scientific evidence for and against evolution, we can hardly pass over the far greater and (from the point of view of the Christian) unsolvable problems that exist where the crucial points of evolution are concerned. There are four of them.
First, even were we to grant the truthfulness of the evolutionary system as currently put forth, we still have the problem of the origin of the matter from which the later forms sprang. Evolution implies matter by the very meaning of the word, for in order for something to evolve there must be something there in the first place to evolve, and that first something cannot evolve but rather must be either eternally present or created. Since the eternity of matter is today increasingly untenable, as we saw in a previous study, we must have God as Creator. And this obviously nudges us toward the Christian position, whatever our opinions of a greater or lesser degree of evolutionary development may be.
Second, there is the form of matter. We may speak of “mere” matter as if it were a simple irreducible entity, but we do not actually know of any such “simple” matter and cannot in fact even conceive of it. Everything we know, however simple, already has a form—generally a highly complex form. Even hydrogen, the basic building block of everything according to astrophysics, is not simple. It has a proton, neutron, and electron, all operating according to fixed laws. Where did this fixed form and laws come from? They did not evolve. They are in matter to start with.
Third, there is the emergence of life. This is a complex problem, and much has been done to develop laboratory models according to which life could have arisen on earth during the early ages of the planet. The most acceptable model is a three-stage process involving: 1) the origin of bio-organics (amino acids, sugars) from inorganic compounds (hydrogen, water, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane); 2) the origin of biopolymers (large molecules such as proteins) from the bio-organics; and finally 3) the origin of primordial life (simple plant or algaelike cells) from the biopolymers. But this is an extremely complex process, even assuming that this is how life came about, and therefore has an extremely low level of probability. True, scientists have achieved the first two of these stages in carefully controlled laboratory experiments. But the crucial third stage is elusive. And even in the second stage, the polymers seem to deteriorate faster than they would normally be created in anything approaching a natural environment. Again, it is not a matter of a single event of low probability. It is a matter of a long series of events, each with a very small probability, so that, as one writer says, “for all practical purposes the probability of this series of events may safely be regarded as zero” (Donald England, A Christian View of Origins. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972, 97).
Two scientists, who nevertheless believe in the spontaneous generation of life, write, “The macromolecule-to-cell transition is a jump of fantastic dimensions, which lies beyond the range of testable hypothesis. In this area, all is conjecture. The available facts do not provide a basis for postulating that cells arose on this planet” (D. E. Green and R. F. Goldberg, Molecular Insights into the Living Process. New York: Academic Press, 1967, 407. Quoted by England, Christian View, 94. England discusses the problems with a theory of the spontaneous generation of life on pp. 33–100).
The fourth of the truly great problems for an atheistic theory of evolution is the emergence of personality in man, or to be more specific, the emergence of the soul, spirit, or God-consciousness. What caused non-man to become man? One writer asks, “Where did the soul of man come from? Why is it that the highest and best animals are unable to pray? They are unable to communicate in a rational way. They are unable to do the things that man is able to do. The lowest type of man upon the face of the earth is far higher than the highest of the animals, because he has the capacity to worship God and can be brought to be a child of God, able to live in the glory of God through Jesus Christ, and that is true of none of the animals.” This writer concludes, “I am not ashamed to say that I believe in the first chapter of Genesis, but I should be ashamed to say that I held to any form of evolution” (E. J. Young, In the Beginning, 56–57).
I conclude with this question. Why is it, if the theory of evolution is as weak as it seems to be, that it has the popular appeal acknowledged at the beginning of this sermon? Why is it that evolution is today’s dominant view and not one of the other views mentioned? I think there are four answers, three of which I want to put in the form of statements and one of which I want to put in the form of a question.
The statements are these.
First, according to evolution, everything—absolutely everything—is knowable, and this has obvious appeal. Everything comes from something else, and we can trace the developments back. It is a closed system. There is no need for anything outside. Above all, there is no need for God who by the very definition of that word is One who is unknowable and who does not need to give an account of himself.
Second, according to evolution, there is one explanation for everything. Everything evolves: matter, life, ideas, even religion. We can project this framework from our own small world throughout the universe.
Third, and this is perhaps the chief reason, if creation of the world by God is eliminated (as many clearly wish to do), evolution is the only other option.
On the basis of those three statements I now ask my question: Is it not possible, then, that in the last analysis the appeal of evolution is in its elimination of God and its exaltation of man? In this system man does not merely become the highest point of creation, which Christians would themselves willingly affirm. He becomes the god of creation. Consequently, to challenge evolution is to blaspheme against man, and blasphemy against man is the sin for which there is now no pardon. Algernon Charles Swinburne gives expression to this spirit in his Hymn of Man.
But God, if a God there be, is the
Substance of men which is Man.
Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten;
Thy death is upon thee, O Lord.
And the love-song of earth as thou diest
Resounds through the wind of her wings—
Glory to Man in the highest!
For Man is the master of things.
Is man the master? If he is, then he can go his way and devise any theory of origins he chooses. But if he is not—if there is a God—then he is the creation of this God and owes this God allegiance.
About the Preacher
James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 5 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentary. vol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.
Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.
He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.
Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.
Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).
A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.
Sources: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website
from the Tenth Presbyterian Church website
1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,