August 18, 1991
ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL
“And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds …” (Genesis 1:24).
When you want to know the facts, an encyclopedia is usually a good place to begin. And according to the 1979 edition of the New Encyclopedia Britannica, “evolution is accepted by all biologists and natural selection is recognized as its cause.” It goes on to say, “Darwin did two things; he showed that evolution was in fact contradicting Scriptural legends of creation and that its cause, natural selection, was automatic, with no room for divine guidance or design.”
In other words, the first sentence of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” has as much credibility as the claim that the stork brings babies. It’s just a legend, while evolution is a fact that no informed person in his right mind would deny. Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins says: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)”. Dawkins is kind enough to add, “You are probably not stupid, insane, or wicked, and ignorance is not a crime ….”)
Well, what do we make of all this? In the first place, we need to realize that not all intellectuals think that the biblical story of creation is a legend. For example, Professor Alvin Plantinga is a widely respected scholar and former president of the American Philosophical Association, and he thinks that the biblical account makes more sense of the scientific evidence than the theory of evolution does. The relationship between science and the Bible can sometimes be very difficult to understand, and I’ve found Dr. Plantinga’s insights to be very helpful. He has helped me to see more clearly how the disciples of evolution are overestimating the certainty of their theory, and seriously underestimating the facts revealed in the Bible.
Before we get into this difficult subject, let’s begin by simply listening to what the Bible says. Genesis 1 begins by saying, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and then it tells how God formed everything that exists in six divine days of creative activity. Here’s how it describes the fifth and sixth days of creation, when God created various forms of animal life:
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be Fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:20-27)
According to the Bible, God’s creative word is the source of every form of life. But some leading intellectuals tell us that science makes it impossible to believe that all creatures great and small have been created by God. What should we make of what they are saying?
When we think about the relationship between science and religion, we often think of religion as the narrow-minded oppressor and science as the neutral, rational search for truth. Galileo made important discoveries in the area of astronomy, but the church of his day persecuted him because Galileo believed that the earth revolves around the sun, a belief that the church considered heresy. In 1925, in the famous Scopes trial, a teacher who told his students about Darwin’s theory of evolution faced prosecution for doing this. Galileo and Scopes have become symbols of scientific enlightenment being persecuted by the forces of religious dogmatism.
But it’s a serious mistake to think that evolutionists are rational, open-minded, neutral thinkers who are simply following the evidence wherever it leads. Today’s evolutionists have made a commitment, and they are as dogmatic about their beliefs as the most narrow-minded religious person. Richard Dawkins says, “If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?'” A belief in evolution, according to Dawkins, is the most important mark of an advanced civilization. This is the same Dawkins who says that anyone who rejects evolution is either ignorant, or stupid, or insane, or wicked.
Another influential thinker says that we are corrupting our youth if we suggest that there is any real doubt about evolution. In fact, many educators do not want any theory other than evolution even to be discussed in their classrooms. One author writes: “The fight against creationism is a fight for all knowledge, and that battle can be won if we all work to see that Darwinism, which has had a great past, has an even greater future.” Many people don’t merely believe in evolution–they are fanatically devoted to it, and refuse to consider any perspective which disagrees. In its own way, the university has become as dogmatic as the church ever was.
Why is this? Well, without the theory of evolution, the person who doesn’t believe in God has no way of answering the question, how did life get started and reach the wide variety of forms that we see today? A Christian has a ready answer to that question: The Lord created them. But without the theory of evolution, an atheist has no explanation. That’s why Richard Dawkins once said that he couldn’t imagine being an atheist before 1859 (the year Darwin’s Origin of the Species was published). “Darwin,” he said, “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” The theory of evolution allows people to think about life without thinking about God, and that’s why they are so fanatically devoted to this way of thinking. They can’t afford to question their own theory, or else they may have to take God seriously.
When you realize that evolutionists are dogmatically committed to their theory, you are set free from the myth that they are purely objective thinkers who base their every idea on actual scientific discoveries. You won’t believe something just because they say so, but you will want to examine the evidence for yourself and test each aspect of the theory of evolution in comparison to what the Bible says.
At least five different claims are involved in the currently orthodox theory of evolution: First, according to this view, the universe is very ancient, perhaps even billions of years old; second, over time life has progressed from relatively simple forms of life to relatively complex forms of life, and eventually there were fish, then reptiles, then birds, then mammals, and finally, human beings. Third, all of these life forms have common ancestry. Life originated at only one place on earth, and all living things today are descended from those original life forms. Fourth, this development over the generations is due to entirely natural processes, such as random genetic mutation and survival of the fittest. Finally, there is the claim that life itself originally developed from non-living matter just by virtue of the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry, without any special creative activity of God. All these claims, taken together, form the grand evolutionary picture.
What should we make of all this? Let’s begin with the last two ideas, that the development of life and its origin from non-living matter, are the results of random chance. These are the claims that are most obviously in conflict with biblical teaching, and these are also claims for which there is not a shred of evidence.
The notion that life emerged by chance, through purely naturalistic means, is highly improbable. Darwin himself thought this claim was very chancy, and recent discoveries in molecular biology make it much less plausible than it was in Darwin’s day. No one has ever seen life emerging from non-living material by chance. For that matter, no one has even seen it happen as a result of deliberate experimentation. So if our most intelligent efforts are unable to produce life from lifeless material, it’s extremely improbable that it would happen by accident.
The same holds true for the idea that the various forms of plant and animal life evolved by purely natural processes. Even if there were a process of evolution from one life form to another–and I’m by no means convinced of that–there would still be no proof whatsoever that God did not direct the process. It is very hard to see how delicate instruments like the eye and the ear, which involve many complex parts working in coordination with each other, could develop by pure accident. Here again, any claim that this process could occur without God’s design is highly improbable.
So it’s clear that when evolutionists say that God is not involved in a certain process, they are depending on their dogmatic commitment to atheism, not on an examination of what seems most probable on the basis of reason. The clearest aspect of the biblical story of creation is that God did it, and where atheistic evolution denies God’s activity, it is all bluff and no evidence. There are no scientific grounds for denying that God created the heavens and the earth, and so there is no conflict between faith and reason at this point.
As for the claim that simpler life forms appeared before more complex life forms, the evolutionist and the Christian can agree. The Bible says that plants came first, then fish, then birds, then land animals, and then human beings. No evolutionist would argue with that.
But what about the other claims of evolution, that the universe is billions of years old, and that all life form developed from a common ancestor? This is a point at which we must be careful, because Christians can make mistakes in how they interpret the Bible, just as scientists can make mistake in how they interpret their observations in nature. Notice that I didn’t say that the Bible makes mistakes. But I did say that Christians can sometimes make mistakes in how they interpret it, and this sometimes leads them to deny strong scientific evidence.
For example, Psalm 104:5 says, “God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” This is God’s poetic way of saying the earth is his creation and under his firm control, but some Christians in the sixteenth century understood this to mean that the earth doesn’t rotate on its axis or go around the sun; and these Christians were mistaken. The Bible is never wrong, but Christians sometimes wrongly interpret a biblical figure of speech in a literal manner. When we insist strongly on something which the Bible does not in fact intend to teach, we make it harder for people who know the facts to take the Bible seriously.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we should declare that a part of the Bible is figurative every time scientific theories point in a different direction. Scientists sometimes make claims without solid evidence, and even when they do have evidence, they are just as likely to misinterpret that evidence as a Christian is to misinterpret the Bible. Scientific theories don’t leave much room for miracles, but the Bible is filled with God’s miracles. So if the Bible teaches something very plainly and directly, we must question any scientific theory which contradicts that teaching.
When we examine the Bible’s teaching and the scientific evidence, what should we think about the age of the earth? Not all Christians agree on this. Years ago Bishop James Ussher calculated from his understanding of the Bible that God created the heavens and the earth in the year 4004 B. C. Some Christians still believe in Bishop Ussher’s estimate, and they find scientific theories that the universe is billions of years old to be unconvincing. Perhaps it only appears to be old, or perhaps there is a flaw in the way scientists estimate the earth’s age. After all, there’s a good possibility of error in projecting the results of less than two hundred years of study over a period of billions of years. This is one sensible view.
Other Christians, however, don’t think that God is trying to tell us about the age of the earth in Genesis 1. These believers are convinced that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, but they aren’t so convinced that the beginning was in the year 4004 B.C. They don’t think that Genesis is concerned with teaching the age of the earth, and they take the evidence for an old earth to be very strong. Astronomy, geology, and the study of fossils all point to an old earth. Perhaps the six days of creation are figurative, since the Bible often uses the word “day” to describe a period of time other than a 24-hour period.
The Bible doesn’t set a definite date, and so I don’t think Christians should be too dogmatic on that subject.
What about the claim that all living things evolved from a common ancestor? I think that the scientific evidence for this view is weak, and that the biblical teaching leads us quite plainly in a different direction.
Almost everyone agrees that significant change is possible within a certain species. Laboratory experiments have developed all sorts of different fruit flies, for example. But in all these experiments with fruit flies, despite the new varieties, the end result is still fruit flies. I grew up on a farm where we raise cattle, and with selective breeding, we have raised cattle that have grown bigger over the years. But they are still cattle. There is room for development within a particular family of living things, but there is little evidence that any family has actually evolved from another family.
Well, what about the fossil record? Isn’t that where we find the strongest evidence of one species evolving into another? Don’t fossils give proof that all forms of life belong to the same family tree, with roots in a common ancestor? Apparently not. There is little fossil evidence of life forms that are in transition from one family of animals to another. You don’t have to take my word for it. Stephen Jay Gould, an outspoken atheistic biologist at Harvard, admits, “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference … not the evidence of fossils.” Another scientist writes, “nearly all categories above the level of families appear in the record suddenly and are not led up to by know, gradual, completely continuous transitional sequences.”
In light of this, I see no reason why Christians should not take the Bible’s account at face value: God created each living thing after its kind. This would certainly explain why each family of creatures appears suddenly in the fossil record. Genesis 1 seems to say that God created each of the main families of animal life as separate and special, and there is little scientific reason to question this or hold to a theory of gradual development from common ancestors.
As God’s final act of creation, he made Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, in his own image. All of us are their descendants. We too share in God’s image, and we are also involved in Adam and Eve’s rebellion and sin against God. Only Jesus Christ, the one the Bible describes as “the last Adam,” can make us right with God, and can make us part of God’s renewed creation. Jesus is the heart of the Bible’s message, and we understand his work of renewing his creation only when we realize that creation is his in the first place.
We’ve seen that the biblical story of creation is quite different from modern scientific explanations. But that doesn’t mean that the Bible is wrong. We’ve already seen how some of the most important aspects of evolutionary theory are based more on rebellion against the Creator than on sound, scientific data.
This rebellion against the teaching of the Bible not only has weak scientific support, but it has disastrous consequences for human beings. Bertrand Russell, an influential atheist, stated the logical conclusion in this way: “Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are only the outcome of accidental clusters of atoms and molecules; no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; the whole temple of man’s achievements must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. …Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built.”
That last sentence says it all: atheistic evolution leads unavoidably to unyielding despair. When you exclude God from your life, you lose the only foundation for love, hope, purpose, and a sense of destiny. Your life is built on emptiness and despair. But thank God, this disastrous philosophy of life is not nearly as certain as some people claim. People believe it, not because it is so logical, but because they want to live life without coming to terms with God. If God doesn’t exist, then you don’t really matter and the people around you don’t matter. But at least you can do what you want.
So if you’ve been thinking that all of life has evolved by chance, I hope you’ll think again. Genesis is no legend, and atheism isn’t good science; it is stubborn rebellion against the Lord which flies in the face of the facts. The reasons for taking this approach are very flimsy, and the consequences of believing it are disastrous. It is a degrading lie straight from the pit of hell.
The Bible’s explanation makes more sense, and it also provides a solid foundation for meaning and joy in our lives. The Bible says God created all living things, and when we open our eyes, we see plenty of evidence which confirms this fact. Right now God wants you to stop rebelling. He wants you to believe the message of the Bible. Why build your life on a foundation of meaningless despair, when you can build your life on him? Believe that God has made all living things, including you, and trust that he will give you a joyful life that never ends through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s no legend; it’s the gospel truth.
Thank you, Lord, for telling us the truth about creation. Forgive us when we try to understand our world without thinking about you, and rescue us from emptiness and despair. Help us to hear what you are telling us in the Bible, and also to understand what we discover in creation. Show us where we fit in your plan, and help us to know you in a personal way through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.