The editor of the Chalcedon Report was my pastor for several years. In conversation with him, I made many allusions to the convoluted path I followed in arriving at my current understanding of Creation and Beginnings. When he planned an issue of the Report devoted to Creation, Pastor Sandlin asked me for an account of that path.
This account covers events spanning almost half a century. As I have thought about the assignment for a month or two, various names and titles have come to mind (it took a week of active trying before I remembered the name of J. Frank Cassell, for example). I'm reporting here influences that I now remember as having pushed me in one direction or another. I have not gone digging for the books and reread them to find quotations or make sure the title is correct.
What I'm reporting here are those formative events and influences that I now think exercised a controlling influence on my belief system over the years.
And, of course, I conclude with a statement of what I now know to be right and true and beautiful.
As a boy in Christian School in the '50s, I carried a copy of The Scofield Reference Bible, so the "gap theory" is part of my heritage (see Scofield's notes on the first couple of verses of Genesis1). But I don't think that was intellectually satisfying, even then.
I saw several Moody "Sermons from Science" movies. "The Prior Claim" was one we saw at Maranatha Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan, way back then. I bought a copy of the book of the same title that went with the movie. Gradual change is a crucial part of most credible theories of evolution and "The Prior Claim" just hammers on the impossibility of gradual change working as an explanation of the origin of living species we see around us.
For example, what partially formed version of the system would have any possible survival value so that an archer fish could use it to get its dinner and thus be selected for development into the current system? This vision system looks through the boundary between air and water and correctly aims a stream of water to knock down an insect. No partially formed version of that system would have any benefit that would cause it to be preserved in the next generation under the presuppositions of natural selection.
"The Prior Claim" presents many such examples for impressionable young minds. I remember the trapdoor spider, the bat's echolocation system, the mammalian eye. (Maybe thirty years later, Michael Denton's book, Evolution: a Theory in Crisis does much the same thing for a different audience and from different presuppositions.) Something I read during this period had a footnote that I followed to find and join the American Scientific Affiliation. That membership went on for many years and I read the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. More about that later.
Every freshman at Wabash College takes a year course in biology. I transferred in as a junior, but had no transfer credit to get me out of the biology requirement. The course was taught by Johnson, Laubengayer, and DeLaney from a textbook they wrote.
That detail — the names on the heavy textbook matching the names on the talking heads up front — carried a lot more weight with me than it was worth.
Creation and religion were not intellectually respectable in that lecture hall or the related laboratories.
I went in understanding that my faith was tied to these "origins things" they were talking about. Johnson succeeded in weakening that connection in my mind. But I eventually integrated things into a system that preserved my Faith while setting aside parts of the conflict.
Sometime during this period I started reading cosmology and cosmogony.2 I joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science and read the weekly journal, Science, for at least ten years. There were a lot of articles in Science on cosmology and cosmogony, stellar evolution. That was during one of the periods when the Big Bang was overwhelming Continuous Creation as the fashionable answer. Somehow I believed that stellar evolution3 was a different kind of issue than biological evolution.
Summer 1965 I attended the annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, an impressionable kid in a beautiful avenue with a hundred distinguished scientists. The venue was The King's College, Briarcliff Manor, New York. The Manor is a long building built along the top of a ridge. One night there was a thunderstorm that provided ten or twenty minutes of continuous lightning. Almost steady enough to read by. It was a glorious occasion.
J. Frank Cassell was one of those distinguished scientists who were friendly and polite to this hermit. He is an ornithologist.
J. Oliver Buswell led devotions several times. That Bible he pulled out of his pocket was written in Hebrew. He was translating it as he read it to us. I'm sure there were people there who did not notice, but that was a very effective way to make an impression on me.
They were all "Theistic Evolutionists."I came out of that meeting either forming or having formed the accommodation that carried me for perhaps twenty years — obviously God did it and it is not terribly important how he did it.
Also at that meeting I made the connection that led to my joining the faculty of Barrington College in the Mathematics Department a year later. It was there that I met the woman who is now my wife. After we were married, the Biology Department invited J. Frank Cassell to visit Barrington College to do something academic. He dined at the Herricks one evening. We talked about birds. When I asked him to recommend a field guide, he named Birds of North America, "a Golden Book, by Zim."
I still use the copy of Birds of North America that I bought after that visit.
Part of the reason for the personal detail in this section is to show that the controlling issues in my accommodation were probably sociological, more than intellectual or based in faith.
I did understand enough philosophy of science at this time to know that when Isaac Asimov wrote about the fact of evolution, he was writing the creed of his religion.
I did enough reading of the Bible to understand the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men, and to be far from satisfied with the charts of God's plan for the ages based on fanciful side-by-side interpretations of Revelation and today's newspaper. But I didn't know about anything else, any alternatives.
The World Is Turned Upside Down
Along in the mid-1980s a Sunday school teacher named Bill Staudenbauer connected me with Reformed writers, starting with reconstructionists, men like R. J. Rushdoony, Gary North, and John Calvin. I read them because it was fun. Eventually I bought a copy of North's Genesis: The Dominion Covenant.
The first chapter of that book has a title like Cosmic Personalism vs. Cosmic Impersonalism and there is a related appendix dealing with the topic of origins. (The main body of the book intends to stick to the economic implications of Genesis, though a commentary on the first chapter of Genesis can't avoid origins.)
The point of that title is that the Biblical version of The Beginning involves the conscious decisions and actions of a Person. All of the opposing versions of origins involve interactions of pre-existing matter according to currently observed physical laws. No personal force or actor is required.4
The thing that Gary North did to me was to just completely destroy the accommodation I had made twenty years earlier.
I bought a set of back issues of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction. One issue of the Journal is a "Symposium on Creation."One article in that symposium points out that the study of origins is an exercise in history, not science. The author talks about what kinds of evidence are relevant in the study of an historical event.
The question remains, How did it happen?
Solar systems form out of matter that happened to come close enough together that its mutual gravitational attraction forms a star in the center and some of the material that didn't collapse into the central star becomes planets.
The Sun and the Moon and the Stars were put into place after the plants were created, each of these verbs having a person performing the action.
Is the Bible true? Or is it not?
Calvin's commentary on Genesis has a beautiful treatment of this issue in his discussion of the creation of the plants. Calvin assumes that plants require light. He says that God created the plants a day before he created the sun in order to show us that his provision of light does not require the instrument that he usually uses to provide us with light.5
So what did happen?
God made all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.
There are some things that need to be said about the argument over origins.
The study of origins is not science. It is history. It is religion. It is not science. Some of the people who say things about origins are scientists — when they do other things. But when they make declarations about origins they are not doing science.
The kinds of evidence that work for doing history are different than the kinds of evidence that work for doing science.
The Beginning is a unique event. Before The Beginning is a meaningless concept. The physical laws that we observe in operation around us today did not operate before The Beginning. The physical matter that those laws operate on did not exist before The Beginning.
Science is about "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."Things that can be observed many times so that we can identify the covenantal patterns that God has promised will be there. Science does not have anything to say about a unique event that occurred exactly one time in the entire history of the universe.
Did you catch that? Science is about deducing laws that can be used to predict and describe events that happen over and over under the covenantal order God established in the last verse of Genesis 8. And science does not have anything at all to say about a unique event that occurred exactly one time in the entire history of the universe.
1. Scofield suggests that the creation in Genesis 1:1 could be separated from "and the earth was without form and void"in Genesis 1:2 by a great gap of time that made room for anything that modern science could dream up.
2. "Cosmology"and "cosmogony" — English words made by compounding Greek words. Cosmology is the study of the universe, stars and planets and galaxies and nebulae and orbits and solar systems and the life cycles of stars and the life cycles of solar systems. Cosmogony is the study of the origin of the universe including theories with names like "Continuous Creation"and "Big Bang."Continuous Creation says new matter is continually coming into being and always has been. Big Bang says it all started with a single catastrophic event.
3. Stellar evolution is the life cycle of a star. A star comes into being when enough matter agglomerates together and collapses under mutual gravitational attraction until the pressure gets high enough that it gets hot and the nuclear fires start burning. Different size stars (different amounts of matter came together) follow a different path through their life cycles. Most stages of the life cycle take millions of years with one or two events in the cycle of a star's existence being catastrophic events that take milliseconds or seconds.
4. A gentleman who was kind enough to read the manuscript of this article and comment on it points out that this is not true of theistic evolution — the theistic evolutionist says that God, a person, is involved in the process of evolution; it is just that he did not do it the way he said he did it. (That's not the way my kind critic put it and that's why I am not giving you his name — he would never put incendiary language like that in his own mouth.) As I write this I find it difficult to pay a whole lot of attention to a theory whose lying god gave us the first three chapters of Genesis as a joke after doing things the way the theistic evolutionist says he did. Especially seeing that for many years, I let those theorists persuade me that it did not matter if the divine Author of Genesis was a liar or confused.
5. This is where the theistic evolutionist is forced to join all the other God-denying evolutionists in denying Scripture. There is a fantastic amount of ink spilled in quibbling over what a day is — is it a day or is it a thousand years (actually, they want a thousand thousand years)? Just as the stage magician uses his words and his hands to draw your attention away from where the real action is, so does the "theistic evolutionist."By spending all that time splitting hairs over the meaning of the word "day,"they keep you from noticing that they are also saying that God does not know what order he did it in. Genesis says the order is 1) planet earth, 2) geography of the earth, 3) plants, 4) sun, moon, and stars. The evolutionist (even the one who makes up a god to superintend things) says that the sun was giving out light before the seas formed (and some other stars are much older than the sun) and plants and other living things came a long time later, after things cooled down a bit.