Biblical problems for theistic evolution and progressive creation
Some of the bitterest attacks on creation science come not from declared atheists or even deists1, but from theistic evolutionists2 (TEs) and progressive creationists3 (PCs). Many of these attacks come from people who would describe themselves as evangelical.
But I believe there's one approach to take with TEs and PCs, which is so obvious that it may be overlooked by many. I refer to the actual meaning of Genesis 1:1 and Mark 10:6, which together present a formidable challenge to TEs and PCs. Few people stop to ask what Genesis 1:1 really says. I will try to show that the verse supports six-day creation rather than progressive or pre-evolution creation.
The English translation of Genesis 1:1 is almost invariably:
'In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.'
In some translations the singular 'heaven' is used. Most people would argue that 'heaven' or 'heavens' refers to the created universe. It can hardly be restricted to 'sky', if by that is meant only the 'blue' atmosphere in which the clouds now float. Even those who regard the verse as 'primitive' would say that the early writer must have been aware of spiritual realms beyond the visible.
The evangelical person will regard this verse as a clear indication that God intends to convey to us the fact that He has created everything we see around us. The aspect which is not always noticed by TEs and PCs is that God did this 'in the beginning'.
The phrase in Hebrew is written as though it was one word, with no space between 'in' and 'beginning'. As a set phrase it has no article. The word for 'beginning' is re'shiyth. In standard dictionaries this is most commonly translated 'beginning', but it can also mean 'first, firstfruits, best, chief(est), principal'. These are King James Version (KJV) renderings. The New International Version (NIV) uses many of these, but also renders it as 'choice, supreme, mainstay, leader, foremost'. We must remember that these other translations are mostly 'one-off' examples, though 'first' and 'firstfruits' occur frequently. The NIV also has on five occasions an idiomatic translation using the adjective 'early'.
From the above we learn that the primary meaning of re'shiyth is indeed that of 'beginning, first, early' and this rendering is found in both KJV and NIV in approximately 75 per cent of cases.
There are 51 occurrences of re'shiyth in the Old Testament. In only 11 of these do we find a preposition, and the frequencies are:
|in, at, by, etc.
In addition, on one occasion there is no preposition, but re'shiyth is used adverbially, so that translators normally add an English preposition here. In all 12 cases, re'shiyth means 'beginning, first or early'.
In Genesis 1:1 the Hebrew preposition is be, and this is almost without exception rendered 'in'. I personally would prefer 'at', for reasons set out below. In French and German translations a word equivalent to 'at' is used: au commencement and am Anfang respectively. The phrase is more aptly translated 'at the beginning', if only because 'in' has over the years acquired a kind of 'fairy-tale' implication, along with such phrases as 'once upon a time'.
BEGINNING ... A POINT IN TIME
The reason I prefer 'at' is that here the word 'beginning' refers to a point in time, and not a duration, even though God took six days to complete the work. And any particular creation event was performed at God's command, so it is not particularly accurate to think of, say, the creation of Earth itself on the first day as occurring 'within' the beginning. I am not insisting on this, but I feel strongly against any idea that extends the 'beginning' as long as TEs and PCs would like to take it.
The meaning conveyed here is clearly that God produced 'heavens' and 'Earth' all about the same time. If we grant some distinction between TEs and PCs, we may say that the TE believes more in an initial creation of elementary units, followed by a long period of development with as little supernatural as science will allow. The PC prefers to establish some points of new creation along the way, especially the creation of humans. On the whole, the evangelical would probably prefer a PC belief to a TE belief, since he/she is trying to maintain belief in miracles in the rest of the Bible.
EVOLUTION CONFLICTS WITH SCRIPTURE
A thoroughgoing evolutionist has problems with Scripture here, because the Precambrian period is variously said to begin 4.5 billion years ago and upwards, whereas the origin of the universe is believed to have occurred 8–12 billion years ago, on the latest calculations from the Hubble Space Telescope based on 'big bang' cosmology.4 Other models may go above or below this, but the basic problem relates to the time taken for the material of the alleged 'big bang' or similar event to form into the spherical globe we call Earth.
From these figures, it's obvious that the creation of the heavens and the Earth could not, in an evolutionary framework, have both occurred 'at the beginning'. The Earth would have formed 70 per cent along the time line till now.
But what of the creation of humans? Well, say the TEs and PCs, of course Genesis 1 allows six whole ages to pass before that happens, so we can reconcile 'science' and the Bible.
The problem here is that our Lord Jesus Christ, in Mark 10:6, comments indirectly on the time of the creation of humans by stating that 'at the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female'. In other versions the preposition apo in Greek is translated 'from' (KJV), but this, of course, includes 'at', so we are faced with creation of humans 'at the beginning', unless we believe Christ was a 'child of His time' or purposely adapted Himself to human ignorance. But that's a liberal view, not an evangelical one.
HUMANS AT THE BEGINNING
So, to my evangelical brethren I would appeal on the basis of Genesis 1:1 and Mark 10:6, concerning time, there's no room in Scripture for evolution (or progressive creation or the 'gap' theory) between the creation of the universe, of the Earth, and of humans.
As to the Christian's aesthetic sense, an evolutionary history of long, long ages makes the Gospel story unbalanced. Apart from the matter of death as the penalty for sin, which allows no death before sin, we have the more lopsided theory of a huge amount of time before humans appear, as if God is telling us (not in so many words) that He's not particularly interested in us. God is also saying, under this scheme, that Earth isn't so much a testing place for humans as for His own work, which I find a repulsive thought. (Almighty God doesn't need to experiment.)
The TE/PC theories also postpone Christ's arrival and his Second Coming to an incredibly short bit of time at one end of what some evolutionists imply is a long boring period, almost a slice of eternity, on this planet, followed by an 'exciting' but sinful episode right at the end. To me this is just lopsided history all over again.
Whether from the aesthetic viewpoint or the rational aspect, theistic evolution and progressive creation just don't mix easily with the way Scripture speaks. It was 'in the beginning' that God started everything off ready-made.5 And, of course, Genesis 1:1, as our theologians and linguists agree, was a heading for the six days following, so that the account of the creation of humans, read intelligently, forms part of the creation event.
Genesis 2:1 says 'thus' (i.e. as in Genesis 1) were the heavens and the Earth completed. And surely the Earth wasn't complete in God's eyes until humans had arrived as a separate people 'in His image'.
Charles V. Taylor, M.A., Ph.D., PGCE, LRAM, FIL., Cert. Th., has qualifications in languages, music and theology. He was for many years coordinator of applied linguistics courses at the University of Sydney, Australia. Return to top.
REFERENCES and FOOTNOTES
Deists believe in a 'god' who created the world but has since remained indifferent to his creation.
Theistic evolutionists believe that God 'created' through naturalistic evolutionary processes.
Progressive creationists believe that God intervened at various points over billions of years of time to create new forms of life.
'"Young" universe a big bang', The Australian, October 27, 1994, p. 3.
I have, since becoming a 'creationist linguist', frequently objected to the use of the first four words of Genesis 1:1 in English on their own. I find the expression 'In the beginning God' inadequate to express a true creationist view. This implies that God was 'in the beginning', and although John 1:1-2 confirms this, to cut it off from the idea of creation (whether in John or Genesis) obscures the fact that God truly 'has no beginning', as spoken in type of Christ in Hebrews 7:3. Of course, we humans have no way of speaking of things 'before the beginning', but at least I prefer to reserve 'beginning' in ordinary use for the creation itself.